By Christinia Crippes, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa
May 17--Four years ago at this time, the city was just recovering from higher than usual spring flooding at Memorial Auditorium and not yet aware of the record-breaking disaster that was to come.
When state and county officials met there Wednesday night to talk about flood preparedness, it was a much different scene. The winter did not leave much precipitation, and the soil was not as inundated by the spring thaw, so the river water isn't near flood stage.
Without imminent danger from high water, the flood forum attendees focused their attention on the Federal Emergency Management Agency map modernization program.
"We wonder why the water stops halfway in the building, and we can't imagine 3 foot of water stopping and then all of a sudden it's dry," Oakville Mayor Benita Grooms asked of Iowa Department of Natural Resources senior natural resources engineer Bill Cappuccio.
"There's a reason for that, a reason your maps look that way," Cappuccio responded, before explaining some of FEMA's mapping processes.
About two dozen people attended the meeting, where they learned about National Weather Service efforts to alert the public, preparing for disasters and the National Flood Insurance Program.
Though Cappuccio explained in detail the reasoning behind the mapping, including the 5 foot disparity in topography measurements for the relatively flat Oakville, he also explained why the flood maps that recently went into effect in southeast Iowa may not continue to be the decades-long status quo the previous maps were.
The maps for Des Moines and Louisa counties went into effect in August. Across the river, the same FEMA program resulted in a loss of accreditation for Henderson County's levees in 2010.
Cappuccio said the current map may change due to Iowa DNR's efforts to map the state's watersheds using light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, technology by flying over the state. It's akin to how submarines used sound detection and ranging, or SONAR, for navigation.
Cappuccio said leveraging some federal money available, the state took on this six-year project in connection with the Iowa Flood Center. He said the LIDAR work is done and a map for this region is expected in 2014 or 2015.
But he said that's only the first step, as FEMA will once again go through a comment and review period once the state is done with its mapping work. Cappuccio said the new mapping will note topographical disparities at 2 feet.
Grooms said she hopes the new maps will be more accurate, but she calls the newest maps a joke.
"There's a lot of fallacy in the mapping, and we have to live with it as gospel," she said after the meeting.
Des Moines County residents interested in learning where their homes or property currently stands in terms of its flood risk can visit http://www.dmcgis.com and filter the program to floodplain maps or put in their particular property location.
FEMA itself also may be responsible for helping to change its own updated maps. Cappuccio said FEMA is reviewing its levee analysis and mapping approach.
While the revisions are in draft form, the possible changes could allow levee districts to have their levees and maps reviewed again.
Cappuccio said for levees that have been deaccredited -- as the levee across the river in Henderson County has -- the new maps essentially don't recognize a levee exists. However, the revisions being considered could allow for four different scenarios, which would recognize a levee offering various levels of protection.
Vicki Stoller, Two Rivers Levee and Drainage Association administrator, said one of the two provisionally accredited levee agreements Cappuccio mentioned in southeast Iowa is in the association's coverage area.
She said FEMA had asked for more information, which she plans to send today, and then she hopes to get a response soon on the levee's status.
Stoller also asked why FEMA continues on its map modernization when the technology used in the process needs to be updated.
With no FEMA representative on the panel, Cappuccio said he isn't sure FEMA would say the maps are bad.
Burlington Civil Engineer Ryne Thornburg said the 2008 flood was estimated to cause about $1.9 million in damages to city facilities, not including private buildings.
(c)2012 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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