Flood Control in Drought Times
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
August 9, 2006
Following the 1998 and 2002 floods in the Bexar County area, which combined caused more than $1 billion in damages, local government leaders united in an effort to provide improved flood control, storm water management and water quality. An inter-local agreement (ILA) was developed between Bexar County, the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) because it was recognized that water knows no boundaries. The ILA created a consistent, unified, regional program called the Bexar Regional Watershed Management (BRWM) partnership.
BRWM is designed to improve the quality of life of residents, protect
lives and property and provide safe transportation options during heavy rain and flood events. BRWM addresses both water quality and quantity issues. Currently, 19 of the 21 suburban cities within Bexar County have become part of the agreement and efforts are underway to include more municipalities, federal installations and local, regional, state and federal agencies.
New technologies produce more accurate maps
As a deliverable of the BRWM, SARA has committed to update the hydraulic and hydrology computer models for each of the five watersheds in Bexar County. The majority of Bexar County's floodplain maps are outdated and do not depict current development—many maps have not been updated since the 1970s. As a consequence, the current floodplain maps do not accurately estimate the community's overall risk for flooding. This new modeling/mapping process, known as the Regional Watershed Modeling System (RWMS), will provide a means to update the maps and models and host the information to the public.
The RWMS is at the forefront of a national movement to digitize floodplain maps. SARA has developed a new computer modeling technique that will allow Bexar County to be one of the most comprehensively and detailed re-studied counties in the nation. These new digital floodplain maps are being developed in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (dFIRM) program. Bexar County became a candidate for the program because our area has experienced recent flood-of-record type events raising awareness of the need to update floodplain maps to depict existing conditions.
The dynamic digital floodplain maps will provide a number of advantages over the old, static paper maps. The dFIRM program will create digital floodplain maps that are easier to use and maintain than the existing maps, provide a uniform structure across the nation for flood hazard data, allow for improved delineation of flood hazard zone boundaries and have greater utility for flood risk identification, floodplain management and use by the National Flood Insurance Program.
Another advantage of the digitized maps will be in the development of Capital Improvement Projects. The BRWM partnership requires annual editions to the Five Year Capital Improvement Plan, to identify regional projects and their estimated implementation budgets for the next five year period based upon technical merit, and an Annual Capital Improvement Plan, which is a more detailed plan identifying projects to be funded for the upcoming budget year and the annual project costs for funding by Bexar County, City of San Antonio, SARA and others. Using the RWMS, the BRWM partners are proactively planning for the release of the dFIRMs by developing Capital Improvement Projects to help mitigate the effects of the new floodplain maps.
When the Capital Improvement Project list for each watershed is compiled, the BRWM will host a series of public meetings to share information about the proposed projects and gather public input. These meetings will begin in July in advance of the anticipated release of the FEMA dFIRMs. There will be a separate public review process of the new dFIRMs, hosted by FEMA, beginning in September and running for at least three months.
In order to assist with the dissemination of valuable information, the BRWM will utilize billboards, print ads and media stories. The BRWM is also making upgrades to its web site, www.BexarFloodFacts.org. Visitors to the site will be able to find more information about flooding, floodplains, dFIRM, the National Flood Insurance Program and a host of other issues related to the BRWM. The web site will be frequently updated, so by visiting the BRWM web site regularly, citizens can get the facts, not the frustration; get smart, not stranded; and get educated, not devastated.
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