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Beware, prepare for flooding

Robert Fellows
Chief Stormwater Engineer for Carson City
Nevada Appeal File Photo State workers load sandbags in the rain near Ormsby Boulevard in preparation of anticipated flooding during the winter of 2006. The bags were delivered to flood-prone areas in Carson City.
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Flooding in Carson City is caused by snowmelt and runoff generated from the surrounding mountain ranges that overflow the banks of the Carson River and the many creeks and streams that flow through the city to that river.

Floodwaters can cover many blocks up to 1 foot or more in depth. The Linear Ditch and Goni Creek are smaller streams that flood during or soon after heavy storms. Floodwaters are not deep, but they still cover streets and yards and can flood cars, garages, basements and lower floors.

Flooding in parts of the city can come with little warning. Even though they appear to move slowly (3-feet per second), a flood 2-feet deep can knock a man off his feet and float a car.

Your property may be high enough that it was not flooded recently. However, it can still be flooded in the future because the next flood could be worse. If you are in the floodplain, the odds are that someday your property will be damaged.

Carson Flood information

City Flood Services: The first thing you should do is check your flood hazard. Flood maps and flood protection references are available at the Carson City Library. You can also contact the Engineering Division at 887-2305, ext. 1212 or visit them on 2621 Northgate Lane to see if you are in a mapped floodplain.

If so, they can give you more information, such as depth of flooding and past flood problems in the area. The engineering division also maintains FEMA Elevation Certificates for many of the homes within the city.

In addition, the permit center has various handouts related to flooding and flood protection.

If requested, the Public Works Department will visit a property to review its flood problem and explain possible ways to stop flooding or prevent flood damage. Call the department at 887-2355. These services are free. If you are in a floodplain or have experienced a flood, drainage or sewer backup problem, check out these sources of assistance.

What You Can Do

Several of the city’s efforts depend on your cooperation and assistance.

Do not dump or throw anything into the ditches or streams. Dumping is a violation of Chapter 12.19 Storm Water System Illicit Discharges and Connections Ordinance. Even grass clippings and branches can accumulate and plug channels.

A plugged channel cannot carry water and when it rains the water has to go somewhere. Every piece of trash contributes to flooding.

If your property is next to a natural drainage, ditch or stream, do your part and keep the banks clear of brush and debris. The city has a stream maintenance program that can help remove major blockages such as downed trees.

If you see dumping or debris in the ditches or streams, contact the Public Works Department at 887-2355.

Always check with the permit center before you build on, alter, regrade, or fill on your property. A permit may be needed to ensure that projects do not cause problems on other properties.

Flood-proofing: There are several different ways to protect a building from flood damage. One way is to keep the water away by regrading your lot or building a small floodwall or earthen berm. These methods work if your lot is large enough, if flooding is not too deep, and if your property is not in the floodway. The permit center can provide this information to you.

Another approach is to make your walls waterproof and place watertight closures over the doorways. This method is not recommended for houses with basements or if water will get over two feet deep.

A third approach is to raise the house above flood levels. A small wood frame house can be elevated for around $10,000. Many houses – even those not in the floodplain – have sewers that backup into the basement during heavy rains. A plug or standpipe can stop this if the water doesn’t get more than 1- or 2-feet deep.

They can be purchased at a hardware store for under $25. For deeper sewer backup flooding, talk to a plumber about overhead sewers or backup valves.

These measures are called flood-proofing or retrofitting. More information is available at the library.

Important note: Any alteration to your building or land requires a permit from the permit center. Even regrading or filling in the floodplain requires a permit.

If you know a large flood is coming, you should shut off the gas and electricity and move valuable contents upstairs. It is unlikely that you will get much warning, so a detailed checklist prepared in advance would help ensure that you don’t forget anything.

Flood Insurance: If you don’t have flood insurance, talk to your insurance agent. Homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover damage from floods.

However, because Carson City participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you can purchase a separate flood insurance policy. This insurance is backed by the federal government and is available to everyone, even for properties that have been flooded.

Some people have purchased flood insurance because it was required by the bank when they got a mortgage or home improvement loan. Usually these policies just cover the building’s structure and not the contents.

During the kind of flooding that happens in Carson City, there may be more damage to the furniture and contents than there is to the structure.

If you are covered, check out the amount and make sure you have contents coverage. Flood insurance covers all surface floods.

Flood Safety

Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths, mostly during flash floods. Currents can be deceptive; 6 inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. If you walk in standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there.

Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Don’t drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out.

Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to Sierra Pacific or the city emergency management office.

Have your electricity turned off by Sierra Pacific. Some appliances, such as television sets, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged.

Don’t use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.

Look out for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn things over and scare away small animals.

Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.

Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.

For your

information

Call the NFIP at 1-888-379-9531 or visit http://www.flood

smart.gov for an agent referral.

Choosing appropriate flood insurance coverage can pay off

Many homeowners have the decision about flood insurance made for them: If their houses are in high-risk zones, their lenders require insurance.

But people with properties that the government deems relatively safe from flooding can also buy insurance, through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program as well as from private insurers.

“You need to look at that as carefully as you look at your homeowners insurance,” said Kimberly Lankford, author of “The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance – and Still Get the Coverage You Need.”

How much, if any, flood insurance homeowners should buy is based on their assessment of the likelihood of a flood, their tolerance of risk, and the affordability of the premiums. Keep in mind that damages from flooding aren’t covered by regular homeowners policies, nor do they kick in immediately. A federal policy requires a 30-day waiting period.

To determine the chance your house will flood, start by checking the flood maps. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is revising many of them and risk zones have shifted. “We’re in a flurry to update all the flood maps,” said Eugene Kinerney, spokesman for FEMA’s mitigation division, which runs the federal flood insurance program.

A high-risk property is deemed to have about 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year. But about a fourth of claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program have been on policies in areas considered low-risk. Being outside high-risk boundaries “doesn’t mean you’re at no risk,” Kinerney said. “Just lower.”

That makes it your responsibility to figure out the likelihood of water damage. “Think about the history of your house,” Lankford said. If it’s a house you’re considering buying or recently bought, “talk to neighbors.”

In some cases, the geography is obvious, said Mike McCartin, an independent insurance agent who lives high on a hill. “If my current house floods, you’re going to need an ark.”

In other cases, the risk isn’t known yet. Large new housing developments can be particularly prone to surprises, Kinerney said. Any area that years ago was a farm but now has a townhouse development and a Wal-Mart has a lot of water running off, not percolating into a field, he said. In such areas, “you’ve got to look at storm-water management plans. That’s what changing flood plains.”

Try to be objective as you assess the risk. “That’s the biggest problem with selling flood insurance,” said Brad Reeves, an independent insurance agent in Leonardtown, Md. “People don’t think it could happen to them.”

Under the National Flood Insurance Program, the federal government provides the insurance, while private insurance companies sell and service the policies. The government sets the premiums, so there is no need to shop based on price.

If you use an agent for your other insurance policies and he offers flood insurance, stay with that person for simplicity’s sake, Lankford said.

Ideally, stick with the same carrier to avoid turf battles in the event of a claim, Reeves said, “because if it’s something that might cross the line, it’s the other company’s fault.”

How much coverage you need depends on the value of your property and how much it would cost to repair or replace it. Reeves said he encourages his customers to insure up to 100 percent of the replacement cost of their homes. The exact amount will depend on the value of the house and its contents. Homeowners must calculate the latter themselves, although a common ballpark figure is about 50 percent of the value of the house, he said.

Other experts say full replacement coverage is overkill in some areas. Flood insurance for homeowners in high-risk zones can cost thousands of dollars annually, but for those outside known flood zones, the rate drops significantly, Kinerney said. A preferred-risk policy providing $250,000 in coverage for damage to a building and $100,000 for its contents costs about $325 year.

– The Washington Post