The recent catastrophic storms in Texas and Florida were covered by news media to an extent rarely seen, and brought human suffering and property damage up close, even though we are thousands of miles away from the disaster scenes. Nonetheless, most residents know that similar storms, inevitably, could have the same effect locally. It has happened before, and it will happen again. The only question is: when?
Approximately 19,000 county residents and property owners live in, or near, areas with flooding risks in Fairfax County, including Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). Flood insurance is mandatory for properties located in a SFHA that are financed with federally backed mortgages. This includes all loans from banking institutions with deposits guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Today’s zoning and building codes generally do not allow building in floodplains, or at least require significant mitigation from potential flooding. Nonetheless, some older structures in Mason District were built prior to such floodplain restrictions, and may be at risk today. Properties in a floodplain or a SFHA may flood at any time. While tidal surcharges in the Potomac River may not affect Mason District, inadequate overland relief during heavy storms, or adjacency to local streams during those same storms, can create significant flooding of private property here. Flash floods are the most dangerous, and may occur within a few minutes of excessive rainfall, a dam failure, or, in the winter, a sudden release of water held by an ice jam. Overland flooding occurs when rivers and streams overflow their banks. Sometime, the capacity of storm drains, designed to carry stormwater away from streets and yards, is exceeded.
Protecting your property, and yourself, from flood hazards is important. Driving or walking, when you see flood waters, “Turn around – Don’t Drown.” The majority of the 126 people killed in flooding in 2016 made a common and fatal mistake of driving their vehicles into flood waters. Flood waters can camouflage a damaged or washed out roadway, and even a few inches of flood water can create a force strong enough to float a vehicle, or even flip it over.
Stay safe; never try to cross a flooded roadway.
There are many ways you can protect yourself, your family, and your property. Learn your flood hazard. If you are in a high-risk flood area, consider purchasing federal flood insurance. For more information, log on to www.FloodSmart.gov. Keep storm drains clear. This includes your own and the public storm drains down the street. Keep the drains free of litter. Plastic bottles and bags, food containers, cigarette butts, and more — if not disposed of properly, this trash will clog local storm drains, creating an unsightly mess, and impeding the flow of stormwater. Sign up for Fairfax Alerts on your electronic device: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/alerts.
A little planning now will pay big dividends during the next big storm.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]