Water Talk DNR newsletter - May 2015 - corrected

Water Talk

May 2015

Training Available for Floodplain Managers

Continuing Education Opportunity!

Seats are still available for two courses conducted by FEMA at the beautiful Emergency Management Institute’s (EMI) Emmitsburg, MD campus:

  • ADVANCED FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT CONCEPTS II course (E282) - August 3rd - 6th, 2015
  • ADVANCED FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT CONCEPTS III course (E284) - August 24th - 27th, 2015

This course is pre-approved for 12 Core Continuing Education Credits (CECs) for CFMs. If you are a state or local government employee you may attend the training for FREE with all expenses covered except meals (meal tickets are approximately $120 for the week). Travel cost reimbursement for state and local government employees is detailed in the Welcome Package. Please share this opportunity with others who may have an interest in attending the course.


The advanced courses are very interactive and provide an opportunity to share your hard earned knowledge and benefit from the experience of your peers.

The E282 course August 3rd - 6th, 2015 covers the following four topics:

  1. Higher Standards in Floodplain Management (1 day).
  2. Placement of Manufactured Homes and Recreational Vehicles in the Floodplain (1 day).
  3. NFIP Flood Insurance Principles for the Floodplain Manager (1 day).
  4. Hydrology and Hydraulics for the FPM (1day).

The E284 course August 24th – 27th, 2015 covers the following five topics:

  1. Floodway Standards (1 day).
  2. Disconnects between NFIP Regulations and Insurance (1 day).
  3. Common Noncompliance Issues (½ day).
  4. Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs) (½ day).
  5. Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage (1 day).

To apply, please go to http://training.fema.gov/Apply/Please apply early as seating is limited. For more information, go to http://www.training.fema.gov/EMI or contact the EMI Admissions Office at 301-447-1035.

Editor's note: I was lucky enough to attend a course at EMI last year and highly recommend it -- the faculty keep things lively and interesting, the campus is lovely, and the surrounding countryside is picturesque! And you get to meet your counterparts from all over the country and learn about their issues. Definitely worth applying, now or in the future -- Suzanne Rhees

EMI campus in Maryland
Historic buildings on the EMI campus

Upcoming Minnesota Training Offerings

1.  July 27-30, 2015 – FEMA’s G273 course, “Managing Floodplain Development Through the NFIP” -  Save the Dates (Details being finalized). 

  • Class runs July 27-30 and the CFM exam offered 7/31/15.
  • Location: Minneapolis Public Works, 1200 Currie Ave N, Minneapolis 55403
  • Course content: This is the field deployed version of the E273 course that is offered at FEMA’s EMI training site in Maryland. 
  • Target Audience: Local officials responsible for administering local floodplain management ordinances, including but not limited to floodplain management administrators, building inspectors, code enforcement/zoning officers, planners, city/county managers, attorneys, engineers, and public works officials. This also includes state and regional floodplain managers (including watershed districts). The course is designed for those officials with limited floodplain management experience. 

2.  August & September 2015 - One Day Floodplain (and some Shoreland) Trainings for Local Officials & Others (i.e., surveyors, consulting planners/engineers, lenders, realtors)

Topics to be presented in 2 concurrent tracks: Floodplain management basics (history/definitions/floodway vs flood fringe uses); Shoreland management basics; Zoning and permit process/record keeping basics; FEMA map interpretation; FEMA map updates; flood insurance basics (including highlights of 2012 & 2014 Reform Acts); FEMA map appeals/revisions; determining BFEs in A zones, etc.

Tentative locations (dates for many locations being finalized - watch for updates):

  • August 12, 2015 – Grand Rapids  (DNR Office, 1201 East Highway 2)
  • September 3, 2015 – Apple Valley (Dakota County Western Service Center, 14955 Galaxie Ave.)
  • Metro area (at least 1 more – location & date TBD)
  • Mankato – date TBD
  • Moorhead – date TBD
  • Rochester – date TBD
  • Roseau (tentative) – date TBD
  • Windom – date TBD
  • Others?

To register for the above trainings, contact Ceil Strauss @ ceil.strauss@state.mn.us or 651-259-5713

Managing Nonconforming Lots in Shoreland

small SL lots

Why is it important to manage nonconforming lots in shoreland areas?

The small, nonconforming lots that predate shoreland management may have been suitable for small, seasonal cabins for which they were initially intended.  However, they are not suitable for current lakeshore uses or development trends. It is difficult for these small lots to meet the 25% impervious surface limit in state shoreland standards provide space for a backup septic system, and provide enough vegetation to filter and treat stormwater. Development of small lots increases the risk of nutrient flow into surface waters and degraded water quality. Small lots also increase the risk of drainage problems between lots and harm to near shore habitat from docks placed too close together.

Changes in statute may affect local ordinances

Regulating the development and sale of nonconforming lots in shorelands can be complicated. Nonconforming shorelandlots must be managed in conformance with state statute, which supersedes some standards in the 1989 shoreland rules and potentially in some county and city ordinances. In 2009, the Legislature made two changes to statute affecting the sale and development of nonconforming lots in shorelands.[1] These changes were made to insure that the sale and development of shoreland is consistently administered across the state.

small cabins
Typical small lakeshore lots that predate shoreland zoning.

The changes affect:

  1. When variances are not needed for single nonconforming lots of record;
  2. When contiguous lots under common ownership must be combined.

When variances are not needed for single nonconforming lots of record

The revised statute allows single nonconforming lots of record to be allowed as building sites without a variance from lot size requirements (the minimum lot size requirements in state rule unless the local standard is stricter) when:

  1. all structure & septic  system setbacks are met;
  2. a type 1 sewage treatment system can be installed or a connection can be made to a public sewer; and
  3. impervious surface does not exceed 25%.

If all of these conditions cannot be met, then a variance is required and the local government processes that variance according to its variance procedures and statutory criteria. The statute does not require that these three criteria be met to approve a variance, though minimizing deviations from these standards is a good idea. The statute simply provides local governments with an expedited manner for approving the development of nonconforming shoreland lots of record. (Of course, local governments may be stricter and require a variance for developing nonconforming lots, even if they do meet the three criteria.) These statutory provisions supersede relevant parts of Minnesota Rules 6120.3300 Subp. 2D.

When contiguous lots under common ownership must be combined

Statute allows owners of most contiguous nonconforming shoreland lots to sell and develop them according to local regulations. Statute only affects the treatment of the smallest nonconforming lots. According to statute, an individual nonconforming lot that is part of a contiguous group of lots under common ownership must be considered a separate parcel for sale or development, if:

  1. the lot is at least 66% of lot area and width requirements in state rule (6120.3300 Subp. 2a);
  2. the lot is connected to a public sewer or a Type 1 sewage system;
  3. the impervious surface does not exceed 25%; and
  4. the development is consistent with the comprehensive plan.

If the lot does not meet all of these criteria, then the statute states that the lot MUST be combined with one or more of the contiguous lots so they equal a conforming lot as much as possible. Because the statute is mandatory, local governments cannot grant a variance to this statute[2].

However, the statutes include an “out” for the sale of certain lots. Contiguous lots under common ownership that don’t meet the above four criteria may be sold (but not developed), if they contained a habitable residential dwelling at the time they came under common ownership, and:

  1. the lots are suitable for, or served by, a sewage system consistent with MR 7080, or
  2. they are connected to a public sewer.

The statutes apply regardless of the subdivision processused to create the lots or when the lots were created. The statutory provisions supersede relevant parts of 6120.3300 Subp. 2D.

Application to Wild & Scenic River and the Lower St. Croix Riverway districts

While the statutes refer to “shoreland” lots of record, the DNR interprets these statutes as applying to substandard lots in the Wild & Scenic River and the Lower St. Croix Riverway districts. 


In general, Minnesota law affords a great deal of protection for the continuance, repair, replacement restoration, maintenance and improvement of legal nonconformities. Given these broad protections, it is notable that the law specifically limits these protections for small shoreland lots by stating when nonconforming shoreland lots must be combined. This is a clear signal that the Legislature's intent was to eliminate small nonconforming lots in certain situations. Local governments should review their ordinances for compliance with current Minnesota Law governing nonconforming lots in shoreland areas.

[1] The same changes were made to MS 394.36 (for counties) and MS 462.357 (for cities).

[2] Local governments cannot grant variances to mandatory statutes. Although Minnesota Statute (Section 394.27, Subd. 7 for counties and Section 462.357 Subd. 6 for cities) permits local governments to grant variances, the authority extends only to variances from “official controls” or “zoning ordinances.” Officialcontrols and zoning ordinances are defined as actions taken by local governments that are adopted by ordinance. Neither statute authorizes local governments to grant variances to a mandatory statutory requirement.

FEMA Map Updates

New Maps Going Effective:

  • Mahnomen County – April 2, 2015
  • Wilkin County – May 18, 2015

Letters of Final Determination (Letters sent 6 months before effective dates):

  • Norman County – March 30, 2015
  • Kandiyohi County – March 30, 2015 
  • Anoka County – June 2015 (anticipated)
  • Hennepin County – August 2015 (anticipated)
  • Kittson County – September 2015 (anticipated)
  • Scott County – November 2015 (anticipated)
  • Polk County – November 2015 (anticipated)
  • Olmsted County – March 2016 (anticipated)

90-Day Appeal Periods:

  • Scott County – 1/29 to 4/29/2015
  • Polk County – 3/11 to 6/8/2015
  • Olmsted County (2nd) – June to September 2015 (anticipated)
  • Roseau County (2nd) – June to September 2015 (anticipated)
  • Crow Wing County – June to September 2015 (anticipated)
  • Marshall County – June to September 2015 (anticipated)
  • Wright County – July to October 2015 (anticipated)
  • Carver County – July to October 2015 (anticipated)

Open Houses/Resilience Meetings:

  • Fillmore County – April 8, 2015
  • Houston County – April 9, 2015
  • Crow Wing County – July 2015 (anticipated)

New Preliminary Maps:

  • Houston County – 12/31/2014
  • Yellow Medicine County (revised) – June 2015 (anticipated)
  • Fillmore County (revised) – June 2015 (anticipated)
  • Chippewa County – August 2015 (anticipated)
  • Winona County – September 2015 (anticipated)

NOTE: Anticipated dates likely to be pushed back as issues arise

Risk MAP Spring 2015 Update

FEMA’s national Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP) program is intended to result in local activities that reduce risk.  In 2014, in partnership with the state of Minnesota, FEMA Region V initiated activities designed to engage selected communities in discussions about local risk reduction activities that result in safer communities. Since then, FEMA Region V and the state have been facilitating meetings with community officials, mitigation consultants and regional stakeholders to define desired local mitigation activity implementation steps, challenges and needed technical support.  This effort is not intended to replace existing mitigation planning efforts, but to enhance them by identifying federal and state tools, resources and technical assistance that may enable progress on local risk reducing mitigation activities.  The meeting goals include development of a local implementation strategy for a community selected mitigation activity, and in some cases, limited technical support toward progress on that activity.

In Minnesota, FEMA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Department of Public Safety have been working with STARR, FEMA’s consultant, to discuss mitigation actions with Minnesota communities.  Through this partnership, mitigation technical assistance needs have been documented for future funding consideration and to inform local planning efforts.  In addition, some communities are receiving technical assistance or other support to reduce risk including coordination with the Community Rating System program and improving ordinances to include higher standards based on better data.

In the spring of 2015, the program is wrapping up efforts to connect with communities about their local mitigation needs with some last meetings in the St. Louis River watershed.  Some communities, such as Edina, Montevideo, Granite Falls, Olmsted County, St. Louis Park, and Worthington, continue to receive technical assistance to support their risk reduction efforts. Going forward, FEMA and the state of Minnesota will be considering additional technical assistance support and other efforts to help communities take action to reduce flood risk.

If you have any questions about the program, please contact any of the following project partners:


Water Supply Plan Updates Coming Soon

Every ten years communities of more than 1,000 people must submit a water supply plan to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  This requirement, in place since the 1990s, is designed to encourage communities to deal proactively with providing sustainable drinking water for citizens, businesses, and industry.[1]  These plan updates will be due between 2016 and 2018; the DNR will be notifying communities as to when their specific city water plan is due.

Communities are asked to describe their existing and planned water supply, and to develop an emergency plan and a conservation plan.  In the new update there will be greater emphasis on demand reduction and developing rate structures that encourage conservation.  All communities in the seven-county metropolitan area, even those of fewer than 1,000 people, must also fill out an additional section relating to the Metropolitan Council’s Master Water Supply Plan. 

The DNR and Metropolitan Council have been working together to update the template to make it quicker and easier for communities to complete. Templates will be available this summer.  There are no major changes from the last template, but the format will include more checkboxes and suggestions for water conservation.

“Many areas of Minnesota are blessed with abundant water,” said Carmelita Nelson, DNR water conservation consultant.  “However, groundwater water resources are not limitless and in some areas we are hitting the limits.  We are seeing more instances where withdrawal is impacting sensitive natural areas or interfering with other wells or affecting drinking water quality.”

Approximately 75% of Minnesotans depend on groundwater for their drinking water.  The remaining 25% obtain their drinking water from surface water.  “In the last ten years, groundwater specialists have learned a great deal about aquifers, and we are collectively going through an evolution in the way we look at appropriation and sustainability,” said Steve Thompson, DNR hydrogeologist. “In the past, we have made decisions on well permit requests individually.  In the future, we will need to start looking at water appropriation requests cumulatively, using modeling to insure that wells are sustainable.”

“In next ten years, conserving our drinking water sources will become more and more critical,” added Nelson. “We will need to do more water reuse and conservation. We may likely need to start prioritizing uses for deeper aquifers and for shallower wells.”

For more information on water supply plans, contact: Carmelita.nelson@state.mn.us 651-259-5034, or visit the DNR website

[1] see Minn. Stat. 103G.291

Crookston, Minnesota: A Partner in Prevention

aerial view Crookston levee system
This Google Earth image clearly shows Crookston's levee system and adjacent open space along the Red Lake River.

In November 2014, following years of effort on several fronts, a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) requested by the city of Crookston, Minnesota, became effective.  The LOMR reflects the additional flood protection created by the city’s renewed levee system, and removes the Federal flood insurance purchase requirement for hundreds of properties.[1]  While the completion of a LOMR is not mitigation in and of itself, the efforts of the community to get to that point demonstrate a great deal of commitment by the city’s citizens and elected officials.

Mitigation in a community can be a slow-moving activity, often taking years of effort by residents and community officials.  In Crookston, 18 years of persistence and dedication have paid off in making the city more flood resilient.  The historic flooding of 1997 broke most existing flooding records in Crookston.  This flood was preceded by a long series of similar flood events, in 1950, 1965, 1966, 1969 and several subsequent years. [2]  After six weeks of flooding and sandbagging, the city of Crookston knew that it was time to begin a new strategy to live with its river. 

To begin the effort, the city created a special service district that would collect a fee with the express purpose of providing a fund for various flood reduction activities and projects.    After 20 years in place, Crookston’s flood fee district is required to be dissolved during the 2017 tax year.

In recent years the fee has generated funds of about $300,000 per year[3]. While the monies were originally envisioned as a way to fund the construction of levees for the city, due to a modification in state flood control policy, the Minnesota DNR took over the funding of local flood control. Therefore, the funds[4] have instead been utilized to support the maintenance of the city’s levees and for property buy-outs.[5]

The fee structure is based on a scale of risk, with undeveloped properties with the least risk assessed $50 per year and then increasing by steps, based on risk and exposure, up to $300 for those properties removed from what would be in the mapped flood zone without the benefit of a flood control structure.   

A condition of the creation of the flood tax area requires Crookston’s city council to conduct an annual public hearing to allow citizen comment on the district and to determine if the district should be reauthorized for another 12 months.  It is worth noting that at the Council meeting in June 2014, after 17 years in place, no objections from residents were recorded. 

Crookston is not alone in taking charge of its flooding problem by putting some ‘skin’ in the game through the use of a local tax on residents.  Both Austin and Moorhead are also using dedicated funding to pay for flood mitigation.  In Austin, a one-half-percent sales tax approved in 2006 is projected to raise approximately $14 million for mitigation projects over its 20-year life.[6]  And in Moorhead the city created a property assessment system based on the benefit afforded to those properties covered by new flood control projects.[7]

FEMA estimates that each dollar spent on mitigation will save four dollars in response costs over the long term.  And mitigation extends well beyond the placement or hardening of structures:  creating special taxing districts, restoring wetlands, conducting buy-outs, elevating structures, maintaining effective and comprehensive floodplain regulations, joining FEMA’s Community Rating System, and many other strategies all have a place in mitigating the negative effects of flooding on human infrastructure.

Mitigation is a process, and the result of a community’s mitigation goals and efforts can take years or even decades to realize.  Crookston’s willingness to tax themselves stands as a great example of how a community can show their commitment to addressing their flood risk and become a more flood resilient place to live, work, and thrive.   

[1] Letter of Map Revision Case No. 13-05-7394P. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Published November 14, 2014.

[2] “10-Year Comprehensive Plan”. Red Lake Watershed District. Published May 2006. http://www.redlakewatershed.org/planupdate.html. Accessed March 11, 2015.

[3] Christopherson, Mike, “Crookston City Council: ‘Flood fee’ on Home Stretch,” Crookston Times, June 10, 2014. http://www.crookstontimes.com/article/20140610/News/140619946/?Start=2. Accessed March 3, 2015.

[4] City of Crookston, Minnesota, “Financial Statements”, 2009-2013. http://www2.crookston.mn.us/archive/finances/. Accessed March 10, 2015.

[5] Pat Kelly, City of Crookston Public Works Director. Personal communication, March 9, 2015.

[6]“Austin Flood Mitigation Projects:  The Role of Public Works”. Bluestem Prairie. Published 18, 2008. http://www.bluestemprairie.com/a_bluestem_prairie/2008/06/austin-flood-mi.html. Accessed March 11, 2015.

[7] Tom Trowbridge, City of Moorhead Assistant City Engineer, and Amy Weigel, City of Moorhead Special Assessment Coordinator.  Personal communications, March 12, 2015.

What’s the CRS & Why Would My Community Want to Join?

CRS logo

There are two main reasons to consider joining the Community Rating System (CRS):

1.  A higher level of floodplain management that leads to reduced flood damage risk (to lives, property, and economic activity) in your community, and

2.  Save money on flood insurance premiums for landowners/citizens with structures in the higher risk areas.

The National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. As a result, flood insurance premium rates are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

The National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. As a result, flood insurance premium rates are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

Communities get points for activities such as: public education/outreach, providing FEMA map information, higher regulatory standards, additional flood data, flood data maintenance, open space preservation, stormwater management, flood damage reduction and preparedness.  Communities can choose from the smorgasbord of activity options; the one required activity is using the FEMA Elevation Certificate.  

The more points a community earns, the greater the discount for flood insurance on policies within the community. CRS community ratings range from the highest possible rating of “Class 1” to a “Class 10” community that is not in the program and does not get any discounts.  A Class 8 community gets a 10% discount in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) and a 5% discount in non-SFHAs*.  In Minnesota, the communities with the highest CRS rating are Class 5, meaning a 25% SFHA and 10% non-SFHA discount. These are usually communities that have done extensive flood damage reduction projects and preserved significant open space.  

With the 2012 and 2014 updates to federal law, the cost of flood insurance is rising significantly for many classes of structures in the high flood risk zones.  This is especially true for the older pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map (pre-FIRM) structures that have had subsidized premiums, but are being phased to premiums based on their actual elevations.  Communities with many flood insurance policies in their SFHAs are encouraged to consider the CRS program.  

Is it difficult to qualify for the CRS?

In most cases – No! If a community administers the state model ordinance they often have enough points to be a Class 8 or Class 9 community.  The best way to start the process is to do a bit of background reading, and then contact the ISO/CRS contact serving Minnesota, Melissa Mitchell (see contact information below). Melissa can also provide a community-specific “What If” document that shows the policy count and potential CRS discount amounts, which can be very helpful for a community considering CRS to see.

Announcing the new ISO/CRS Contact for Minnesota: Melissa Mitchell - 913-543-0632, mitchell@iso.net 

(Melissa is based in Kansas and will also work with communities in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas.)  

For more information, see:

Community Rating System: A Local Official’s Guide to Saving Lines, Preventing Property Damage and Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance (FEMA 563; April 2006; 12 pages).  

Community Rating System Fact Sheet (FEMA; March 2014; 2 pages).

You can also contact Minnesota State Floodplain Manager Ceil Strauss at 651-259-5713 or ceil.strauss@state.mn.us if you need help determining how many flood insurance policies there are in your community or finding out more about the CRS program.   

*Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs) already are discounted and do not get additional CRS discounts.

Latest FEMA Mapping Site Updates

screenshot of FEMA website map icon

FEMA updated their main map access sites in mid-May 2015.  Following are changes of particular interest:

At FEMA’s Map Service Center (www.msc.fema.gov)  

1. New Interactive Map Icon - If you search for a specific address, city or county in a Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) county, there is now an “Interactive Map” link (in addition to the “View Map” and “Save Map” links).  This “Interactive Map” icon links to the FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) Viewer site, which shows the flood zones with many background options, access to Letters of Map Amendments, etc.  The MSC site previously had a link to the Viewer available, but it was in a format that was easily overlooked.

2.    Browsers Can Be Finicky – the icons shown above may not line up nicely, or the site may not work properly.  If you have these problems, try a different browser, or check with your IT advisors to see if you can adjust your settings (e.g., security settings).  

FEMA NFHL screenshot

At FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) Viewer site  

1. More viewing options - There is more flexibility to turn layers on and off, see some layers in different formats (e.g., spatially or in a table), and to change the transparency of the layers.  Click on the “Content” icon for options.

2. Default view changed - In the previous default view, Letters of Map Amendments (LOMAs) and Letters of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-Fs) showed up as purple dots with case numbers noted (once zoomed in enough).  Now the default view does not include LOMAs, LOMR-Fs or Letters of Map Revisions (LOMRs) unless you go to the content options and turn on those layers.

See Basics on These Sites in Past Water Talk Articles

1.  FEMA’s Map Service Center’s (MSC’s) Dramatic New Look” - in October 2014 Water Talk

2. Cool Tools and Sites: FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer” – in March 2014 Water Talk  (scroll down to see the article)

Stay in the Loop - Keep Contact Information Current

The Water Talk newsletter is published electronically 2-4 times a year, focusing on topics and resources related to floodplain management, shoreland management, and other DNR land use programs: Wild & Scenic Rivers, and the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area.

Our main target audience is local officials involved with floodplain and shoreland management or mapping, as well as those at the watershed district, regional, state & federal level. Other target audiences include: surveyors, engineers, lenders, insurance agents, realtors, and others involved with properties or projects in floodplain and shoreland. If you did not receive this link directly, you can subscribe at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/watermgmt_section/floodplain/index.html

Help us to keep our local official contact list current. If you are the city or county contact for zoning / permits, or the engineering contact, or the emergency manager, and you did not receive the link to this newsletter directly, please forward your contact information and role to ceil.strauss@state.mn.us 

Please let us know what you think of the content and format of this newsletter, which will continue to evolve based on your feedback. Contact Ceil Strauss (see above) with comments or questions.