Politics & Government

Sedgwick County to release new floodplain maps

Sedgwick County residents will be able to find out whether flood insurance is in their future by looking at new floodplain maps available on the county’s website soon.

Some property owners will find themselves in a floodplain for the first time – meaning they’ll have to buy flood insurance – and others will learn that they no longer are. Floodplains change because of development and improvements to drainage.

Only residents who have federally backed loans on homes or other structures in floodplains are required to get flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program. If a home or other structure is owned outright, insurance is not required.

Kelly Dixon, codes and floodplains technician for the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, said that 2,774 structures in the unincorporated areas of the county have been taken out of the floodplain. About 1,710 structures in unincorporated areas have been added.

A spokeswoman said the county was trying to get the maps up on its website, www.sedgwickcounty.org, by Friday or early next week.

The city of Wichita did not yet know how many structures would be added to or taken out of the floodplain.

Don Henry, assistant director of the Department of Public Works and Utilities, said in an email that the city expects some changes to the maps that will affect structures in the city.

Henry said the department plans to share the new maps with the City Council in a workshop on Feb. 24 and present them to district advisory boards in March. The information also will be included in mailers and water bill inserts.

The county got its first floodplain maps in 1986. In 2007, the maps were put in digital form for the first time, Dixon said.

“This is our first really true update where they’ve gone in and actually looked at all of our streams and used engineering methods to determine base flood elevations,” Dixon said. “These are some of the most accurate maps we’ve seen.”

The maps come after concerns that FEMA was not going to recertify the so-called Big Ditch. The Big Ditch was completed in 1959 for $20 million and was designed to protect people and property from a 100-year flood, a flood so severe that it has only a 1 percent chance of occurring each year.

In 2010, FEMA notified area cities that it had started drawing new floodplain maps without the Big Ditch system, a move that would have required thousands of homeowners to buy flood insurance or pay higher rates for existing policies. FEMA eventually signed off on the levee system, which underwent some repairs.

Public meetings about the flood maps will take place in April. The maps become effective in spring 2016.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.