HOISINGTON - Tom Morey is the floodplain manager for the State of Kansas, under the Kansas Department of Agriculture. He partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a cooperating technical partner in an effort to update floodplain maps in the state. Wednesday afternoon, he and several consultants visited with Barton County residents affected by the new Cow Creek Floodplain draft map.
New technology prompts new map
The last time the floodplain was mapped was in the 1980s, then using the old USGS contour maps that were accurate plus or minus five feet. Now, FEMA is working on updating maps throughout the state using modern, digitized LIDAR techniques. That stands for Light Intensity Direction and Range, where data is collected from the air using lasers.
“It’s much more accurate, much more detailed,” Morey said.
Barton County Environmental Manager Judy Goreham likens it to sonar, which bounces sound waves off of objects underwater to determine depth and distance. Goreham was also there to help out on Wednesday, and fielded zoning questions that arose as residents learned how changes in the maps would impact their properties.
Thematic maps provided an overview, with a colored overlay indicating the different areas of impact. While the majority of the land in the old map, indicated in yellow, will remain in, areas of green indicated land coming out, and areas of red indicated the land that would now be added to the floodplain.
Changes were only in the Cow Creek watershed, which is the largest in Barton County, but also affects Rice county and the cities of Lyons and Sterling. Hoisington saw the most changes, and so was the natural location to hold the open house. Claflin saw some changes outside the city limits.
Consultants were ready at computerized workstations. With 800 invitations sent out to those with property in the affected area, the stream of visitors with questions was steady from the start. Just like on the website, the owners could provide an address of where the land was located, and consultants could pull up the section of the map where it was located to answer questions. Most of these came from people with land going into the red.
Despite the more detailed information the new maps are based, Morey admitted it was not the equivalent of a survey.
“We might be off by a foot, and if it’s off by a foot the wrong way, it could be a problem for some people,” he said. “If they hire a surveyor to measure what the points around the property are, changes can be made now, and possibly save the property owner headaches later with insurance requirements.”
Representatives can look at the topography, determine the lowest elevation around that house, and look at the base flood elevation to see how high the water is going to get. If it’s close, he said, it may be worth hiring a surveyor to see if an opportunity exists to change it. But if it’s three feet lower, it’s probably not going to be worth spending the money, he added.
Morey noted that basically, without a house in the floodplain, the impact of land going into the red was minimal. Where the most impact would be felt are properties with structures. For these people, once the map is finalized, it could mean their mortgage company could require they purchase flood insurance.
One Barton County man who visited with consultants Wednesday learned that some of his family’s land was being placed in the floodplain. While it does not currently have a structure located on it, he was concerned how that property will be valued in the future should he choose to develop it further.
“They did a good job of answering all our questions,” he said. “This was a really helpful experience.”
Flood insurance still advised
Others learned their land would now be in the green, and this was cause for celebration. Still others learned that while some of their land would come out, other portions would now be in.
Those coming out of the floodplain should also keep in mind that if they have flood insurance, they can keep that insurance.
“Water can always get deeper than we predict,” Morey cautioned. “We model one specific storm, a 100 year storm with a certain amount of rain in a 24-hour period.”
That means there’s still a risk. Even though they aren’t in a flood plain, they may still want to consider insurance, because it’s relatively inexpensive if they aren’t in that floodplain, he said.
For those who were unable to make it to the open house, the information is still available online, and here is still time to make a phone call and get questions answered, Morey said.
Other parts of Barton County, including the Wet Walnut Creek and Arkansas River areas will be examined in the future, but Morey is uncertain exactly when. At that time, people in southern Barton County will get a better picture of where their properties stand.