The five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast highlights why we should pay attention to stormwater and its potential damage to property. While Category 5 hurricanes are not commonplace in our region, some of this summer’s torrential downpours demonstrated how quickly uncontrolled water can become a serious problem. Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) updated the Flood Insurance Rate Maps that govern Flood Hazard Areas in Fairfax County, and may qualify property owners to purchase federal flood insurance, especially if they have federally backed mortgages.
Earlier this summer, more than 900 Mason District property owners were notified about the potential changes, which become effective on September 17 of this year. Most home-owner’s insurance policies do not cover damage from flooding. Fairfax County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program that establishes flood insurance rates for the locality, based on FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS). Residents can receive lower flood insurance rates if a jurisdiction is able to achieve a lower CRS, but the county must prove to FEMA that it continues to perform the tasks needed to maintain a favorable rating. For instance, Fairfax County reviews all subdivision, site and grading plans, and building permit applications to determine if the land is located in a floodplain. Fairfax County also inspects dams and many constructed ponds and impoundments to ensure that they are in good working condition. Electronic devices that monitor possible flooding conditions have been installed at all of the county’s 18 state-regulated dams. Training drills are held with fire and rescue, police, 911 call-takers, and stormwater staff to improve the county’s flood detection and response.
Most Mason District properties are not affected by the FEMA map change. However, flooding emergencies happen quickly, so it is helpful to remember some simple rules. Never drive through a flooded roadway. Turn around, find another route, and do not attempt to walk through moving water. Most vehicles lose contact with the road in six inches of water; the same six inches can knock adults off their feet. At home, re-grade the lot to drain water away from the building. A county inspector told me that many complaints about water are from long-time residents who, over the years, changed the grade around their homes by simple re-landscaping, not realizing that the original flower beds were graded to take water away from the house. Never throw anything into ditches, storm drains, or streams. Streets and buildings can be inundated with flood waters when storm drains are blocked with debris. Cigarette butts tossed at the traffic signal, or fast food containers and paper products furtively dropped out the car door, can be carried by rain (or melting snow) into the storm drainage system, polluting our streams and the Potomac River, the source of drinking water for more than one million Fairfax County residents.
For general information about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit the Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/stormwater/floodprotect.htm. The Community Emergency Alert Network (CEAN) provides flood emergency information about Fairfax County. Sign up at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cean.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]