Kentucky Division of Water Uses Remote-Sensing Tech to Revise, Study Flood Plain Maps

The tech promises to determine where hazardous flooding conditions exist down to within inches.

by Austin Ramsey, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. / August 10, 2017
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(TNS) -- Property owners in or near Daviess County, Ky., flood plains could expect some very good or very bad news in the next few years.

The Kentucky Division of Water is updating flood maps in the region using advanced, remote-sensing technology that promises to determine where hazardous flooding conditions exist down to within inches.

That means individuals whose property currently lies just outside a hazardous flood zone could learn that their properties are now within it, causing federal mandatory flood insurance purchases. Conversely, those property owners now within a flood plain could find themselves just outside and without expensive annual premiums.

Owensboro City Engineer Kevin Collignon earlier this week briefed the city commission on the new light detection and ranging technology that's being used to update the Kentucky maps. He said a decade worth of stormwater improvement projects on which the city and county have partnered can and should be used to ensure more accuracy in the DOW study. But it comes with a catch, he said.

"The state has determined that our stormwater improvement projects do have value to the study," Collignon said, "but there would be a fee to the community."

If the Harsh, Big, Goetz, Horse Creek and Scherm ditches projects were included in the study, it would cost the city and county a combined $100,000 -- money for which neither has budgeted.

According to Division of Water Environmental Scientist-Consultant Carey Johnson, state funds are limited. His department is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which utilizes maps specifically for the National Flood Insurance Program and helps cover state costs.

City officials have not yet determined if they are prepared to fund the ditch data supplements. It's the fact that map changes could be inevitable that concerns Mayor Tom Watson the most.

"The bottom line for us may be that this is more accurate data, but the bottom line for the homeowner is whether they are or are not in a flood plain," he said. "This seems like an exercise in futility; the city is flat ... we're always going to have flooding."

But Johnson and Collignon emphasize that transparency in this process is key. In other words, they say, it's better to know that your house is in a flood plain and be prepared with an insurance policy than to be caught off guard by a devastating flood.

Officials say it's impossible to predict exactly what the results of the map changes will be, and it could be more than a year or two before draft versions are available for review. Johnson did say changes he's seen in other parts were not drastic, but they do exist. He said homeowners will have ample opportunity to provide more information to the DOW before any final maps go into effect.

FEMA'S National Flood Insurance Program created a government-funded insurance program that is mandatory for property owners who have federally-insured mortgages or other liens on land that has at least a 1 percent yearly chance of significant flooding. The maps are used to make those determinations and they are updated about once every 10 years.

Bobbi Kenady, owner at Baize Insurance Agency LLC in Owensboro, said she can remember writing new policies for individuals who had only recently discovered that their homes were prone to flooding.

"They definitely weren't happy," Kenady recalled. "I remember them saying that they'd lived there forever and they'd never seen it flood once."

Unfortunately, said City Commissioner Bob Glenn, that can happen. Many of the FEMA-funded flood predictions are based on centuries of historical data, and maps can determine that a home qualifies for mandatory flood insurance even if such a flood would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

"I want to know how likely it is that people will be added to a flood plain," he said. "They are going to want to know now."

That information is not yet available, Collignon said.

©2017 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.