Water Talk DNR newsletter - June 2016

Water Talk

March 2016

Water Talk Newsletter is issued three to four times per year.

If you have ideas or requests for the next edition of Water Talk, contact Ceil Strauss at ceil.strauss@state.mn.us 

NEW! MNDNR's FEMA Hydraulic Model Web Application

Tired of looking high and low for FEMA Hydraulic models? Look no further! The MNDNR’s FEMA Hydraulic Model Download Application is a web-based mapping tool that allows users to view and download stream segment model information. Certain stream segments may have multiple models, including the original model, any updated models or Letters of Map Revision (LOMRs). Most of the Basic Engineering Models are in the system along with many of the detailed study models and some of the LOMR models. We anticipate all of the models DNR has will be in the system before the end of the year. For more information click here.

Clip of Hydraulics model site
Figure 1 - The new MNDNR FEMA Hydraulic Model Download Application home page


The following categories of hydraulic models can be downloaded:

  1. Detailed studies in Flood Insurance Studies (FIS) 
  2. Studies that have been updated for a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR)
  3. Basic Engineering models (aka "A Zone models")

There is an interactive map that shows the stream reaches where the state has a hydraulic model.   See example in Figure 2 (below).

    Sample hydraulic model page

    CAVEAT: MNDNR cannot guarantee that the models are the most recent. Sometimes MnDNR does not receive the updated models that are done for Letters of Map Changes (LOMRs) or as the supporting data for a "No Rise" certification. 

    Fall 2016 - One Day Floodplain & Shoreland Management Training - For Local Officials & Others

    Time: Registration at 8:30.  Sessions run from 8:45 am to 4 pm with an hour break for lunch. Two tracks will be offered for most of the day so those attending can choose to cover basics or more advanced topics.

    Cost:  FREE for training.  At most locations there will be an opportunity to order (and pay for) box lunches that morning; bring cash or a bag lunch. 

    Target Audience:  City, county and watershed staff who administer shoreland ordinances, floodplain ordinances,  interpret FEMA flood maps, or determine flood elevations; or consultants, surveyors, insurance agents, realtors, or others who work with these issues.  Feel free to forward to others who do work in mapped floodplain areas.

    Locations of Training on MN map
    Training dates


    If you are interested in this training, please RSVP by the date listed for the location you will be attending. Contact Matt Bauman at matthew.bauman@state.mn.us or 651-259-5710.  Late registrations or walk-ins are welcome, but knowing the number of participants by the RSVP date will help us prepare.

    Topics Covered: 

    • History of floodplain management regulations, roles, definitions, & permitted uses in floodway vs flood fringe
    • FEMA map basics and latest on map & data updates
    • FEMA map interpretation
    • Permit process and record-keeping
    • Flood insurance basics (including highlights of 2012 & 2014 Reform Acts)
    • FEMA map appeals/revisions
    • Determining BFEs in A zones
    • Zoning basics
    • Shoreland management basics and special shoreland topics (nonconformities, pervious pavement, PUDs, new buffer law)
    • Higher standards for shoreland and floodplain management
    • Variances in shoreland and floodplain

     Presented by:  DNR Ecological & Waters Resources Floodplain & Shoreland staff 

    MnAFPM - Save the Date & Call for Abstracts

    MnAFPM logo

    Save the date for the 2016 Minnesota Association of Floodplain Manager’s conference. The 2016 MNAFPM conference will be held on November 16-18 at the Best Western Kelly Inn in St. Cloud, MN. The MnAFPM annual conference attendees consist of federal, state and local government officials, planners, engineers, consultants, researchers, educators, watershed organizations, realtors, appraisers, and insurance agents. The conference agenda will focus on hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, recovery programs, flood control projects, stream restorations, case studies and mapping.

    The conference will include the Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) review and exam as well as training sessions and a field tour. The conference will also include vendor exhibits and networking opportunities.

    Please consider submitting an abstract for the conference. Anyone wishing to make a presentation must submit an abstract describing the material to be presented. Submit your abstract here. Abstracts are due by July 8, 2016.

    For more information, please visit the MNAFPM website.

    Zoning Challenge - Should I Sign This LOMR-F Community Acknowledgement Form?

    LOMR-F graphis showing fill and basement

    You are the local floodplain manager. A resident contacts you and says they are applying to FEMA for a Letter of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-F).  They brought fill around their foundation and have a survey that shows the lowest adjacent grade (LAG) – or the lowest ground touching the building – is above the base flood elevation (BFE).  To complete their LOMR-F application, they need to have someone from the city sign the “Community Acknowledgement Form.”

    You check your records and see that house has a basement. You ask if they filled in the basement, and they say “no.”     

    What do you tell them?

    See bottom of this Water Talk newsletter for answer.

    Defining Risk Using FEMA's Non-Regulatory Risk MAP Products

    Map Modernization, or MapMod, was the federally funded program that initiated the conversion of the country’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) from paper to digital maps.  FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) program has superseded and expanded on the old MapMod program.  There are a number of improvements as part of Risk MAP including: more participation with communities and local officials throughout the process, decision points throughout the process that help define the path forward, watershed based studies instead of county based studies, and a focus on different levels of risk instead of simply being in or out of the floodplain. 

    This article will discuss the new Risk MAP products and how they show different levels of risk, instead of being focused on only being in or out of the floodplain.  Many of these products are considered “non-regulatory” products; meaning they are not developed for use with the National Flood Insurance Policy (NFIP) regulations, but have other uses such as better defining risk or helping a community prioritize mitigation actions.  Since the risk associated with flooding can vary drastically from community to community, products are selected and designed based on what an individual community needs.

    Example of 30-year risk map
    Figure 3 - Example of a Risk MAP product that shows the risk over a 30-year period.


    Examples of some of these products include:

    • Changes Since Last FIRM – The Changes Since Last FIRM (CSLF) Map show how the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) will change once new maps are issued for a county or watershed.  This map is used to help communities easily identify locations where there has been an increase or a decrease in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA, or 100-year inundation area) or where there has been a change in the regulatory floodway.   Community officials can help homeowners who will now be placed in the floodplain find the best insurance rates, or alternatively, help those who have been paying insurance get refunds if they will be removed from the floodplain.
    • Areas of Mitigation Interest Maps – These maps highlight areas where there have been repetitive flood damages or where there have been severe flood losses.  They can be used to help prioritize flood mitigation efforts and dollars.
    • Depth Grid Maps – Depth grid maps show the depth of flooding during 10-, 0.2-, 0.1-, or 0.02-percent-chance flood in addition to flood extents.  These maps can help communities determine where there will be substantial damage because and where buy-outs may be warranted, or where flooding may be shallow and floodproofing homes or structures may be more appropriate. 
    • Percent Chance of Flooding and 30-year Percent Chance of Flooding Maps – these maps are intended for education.  Instead of only indicating that a home is in or out of the 1-percent-chance floodplain, these maps show the percent chance of flooding in any given year, or the percent chance of flooding over a typical 30-year mortgage.  One additional benefit of these maps is that they don’t stop at the 1-percent-chance floodplain boundary.  They show that even outside of a Special Flood Hazard Area, there can still be a risk of flooding. See the example in Figure 3 (above).
    • Flood Risk Report – This report summarizes the above maps with additional information that can be beneficial to a community.  The report focuses on watershed specific flooding issues and lists tools that can be used by communities to help them mitigate their flood risk.  The report is developed with input from the communities so the document can become a working resource.

    map showing deployed counties

    The regulatory products, such as the Flood Insurance Study and the FIRM’s will always be part of the dataset that is updated by FEMA.  But with the Risk MAP program, local communities now have the flexibility to develop and use the products that will be the most helpful for them.  In addition, if a community has ideas for other products that will help somehow reduce flood risk – through education, planning, or mitigation, they will have FEMA’s support. 

    For areas that are currently deployed (see map), FEMA has immediate funding available to develop the non-regulatory products if they will be useful for a community.  For more information on these products, contact the state’s Floodplain Action Hydrologist, Rita Weaver at 651-259-5802 (rita.weaver@state.mn.us). 

    NEW! - FIRMettes Using FEMA's NFHL Layers

    DFIRM counties in MN

    Many of you have made "FIRMettes" at FEMAs Map Service Center site since they became available in 2002. FIRMettes have been very handy.  They are so much nicer than trying to photocopy an area on the large Z-fold Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) panels.  The FIRMette makes it possible to print a nice letter sized or 11' x 17' map of just the area of interest with the scale, north arrow, and panel information. The tool forces the scale to be the same as the official panel, and it has a note saying it's an official copy of that portion of the FIRM.

    But now many of the counties in Minnesota (and the country) are Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs). In DFIRM counties the floodplain layers can easily be seen on FEMA's more recent National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) viewer with a nice aerial photo background, or other background options.

    Until recently, we could not take advantage of those much clearer NFHL layers and aerial photos when printing a FIRMette for official purposes. Now we can!

    In addition to a clearer map with an aerial background, the new FIRMette option has two additional advantages:

    • Any Letters of Map Revisions (LOMRs) are incorporated in the NFHL FIRMette, which is not possible when doing a FIRMette using the panels at FEMA's Map Service Center. This is an important benefit!
    • A location pin can be placed by the person preparing a NFHL FIRMette.

    Print from NFHL site example

    There are two ways to get to the new FEMA NFHL printing tool and do a FIRMette:

    (1)    Directly link to NFHL Print Tool.

    (2)    If you use the print feature in the NFHL viewer, the wording at the top of the printout will have a link to the NFHL Print Tool site.

    NFHL print tool home
    Figure 6 - Home page for the National Flood Hazard Layer Pint Tool


    At the NFHL print tool site, enter the address of interest.  Then follow steps 1, 2 and 3. Depending on your computer, the tool may  "think" for a while, but will then download a FIRMette similar to that in figure 7. Print or save your new "Official" FIRMette that has a little orange "pin" on the structure you noted.

    Sample NFHL FIRMette
    Figure 5 - Sample National Flood Hazard Layer FIRMette. Note this is printed at regulatory map scale of one inch = 500 feet.

    Some caveats:

    • As noted above, this new NFHL print tool can only be used in Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) counties. Go to FEMA’s Map Service Center site at www.msc.fema.gov for sites that are not in a DFIRM county.  See the March 2016 Water Talk article “Changes to FEMA’s Map Service Center Web Site” for hints on using that site.
    • In some Minnesota DFIRM counties, the official aerial background is an early 1990s era aerial photo, so that is what is used in the NFHL FIRMette (the same as the default on the NFHL viewer site for those counties).
    • If it's difficult to verify whether the structure is in the Special Flood Hazard Area (i.e., the A Zone or 100-year floodplain) with the one inch = 500 foot scale, it may be helpful to include a zoomed in print from the NFHL viewer site as supporting information.  See a sample zoomed in NFHL viewer print in figure 4 (above).

    For more information about FEMA's NFHL viewer and Map Service Center sites, see these previous Water Talk articles:

    Letters of Map Revisions based on Fill (LOMR-F) – Some Basics & Historical Context

    What is a LOMR-F?

    There are times when an area is accurately mapped “in” the special flood hazard area (the one percent annual chance floodplain, aka the “100-year floodplain”). The area is low at the time the mapping is done. However, if the landowner constructs a building in accordance with the community’s floodplain regulations, it is possible to apply to FEMA for a Letter of Map Revisions based on Fill (LOMR-F), and get a document that says the building is officially moved “out” of the floodplain and are not subject to the mandatory flood insurance requirements.

    There are many opinions on whether LOMR-F should be allowed, but that is a separate topic (and maybe a future Water Talk article). LOMR-Fs are currently a legal option.

    In order to receive a LOMR-F, the applicant submits supporting data. In the federal regulations section titled “Revision to special hazard area boundaries with no change to base flood elevation determinations” (44 CFR 65.5) there is specific guidance on what data must be submitted.

    LOMR-F examples
    Figures 3a & 3b – Letter of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-F) examples. The site was low, but fill was placed so the lowest adjacent grade (LAG) is at or above the base flood elevation (BFE).

    A closer look at the requirements for a LOMR-F

    The details are in 44 CFR 65.5, but there are two key data requirements:

    (1)    “A topographic map or other information . . .” (typically a survey) that confirms the lowest adjacent grade - the lowest place the ground touches the building – is at or above the base flood elevation (BFE).

    (2)    “Written assurance by the participating community that they have complied with the appropriate minimum floodplain management requirements under Section 60.3.” This section goes on to say the community is assuring that: the low floor of any existing building is above the BFE, any existing or future building will be “reasonably safe from flooding,” and all necessary permits.

    How LOMR-F requirements have changed

    Congressional concerns led to subtle, but significant changes in the LOMR-F submittal requirements listed in 44 CFR 65.5 in 2001. The key changes are summarized in the following table.

    LOMR-F chart
    TB 10-01 cover

    Since “reasonably safe from flooding” is not defined in the code of federal regulations, the community must reference FEMA Technical Bulletin 10-01 “Ensuring that Structures Built on Fill In or Near Special Flood Hazard Areas are Reasonably Safe From Flooding (2001).  In this technical bulletin it explains that IF a full or partial lot LOMR-F is obtained first, specific construction standards may be used for a basement that meets the “reasonably safe from flooding” requirement.

    NOTE: In Minnesota, the basement construction standards in TB 10-01 cannot be used unless a community has adopted this FEMA bulletin in their floodplain management ordinance. Only a few communities have done so.

    Does a LOMR-F take the property out of the floodplain?

    For flood insurance requirements:

    Yes. As noted above, the LOMR-F removes the mandatory flood insurance requirement. In FEMA’s eyes, the building is not in the special flood hazard area anymore. However, when the community signed the Community Acknowledgement Form they vouched that any existing or proposed structures meet the floodplain regulations.  

    For zoning:

    Depending on state and local regulations, the structure may still be subject to the floodplain management regulations or other local regulations.

    In Minnesota, there are several other steps required by state law before the property is removed from the floodplain for zoning.  Minnesota Rules (6120.5800, subp. 2) require the area be filled above the Regulatory Flood Protection Elevation (RFPE), and contiguous to other lands lying outside the floodplain (or that flood control measures meeting Minnesota Rules 6120.5900 are constructed and operating).  In addition, the community must adopt the LOMR-F by officially amending their floodplain management ordinance.

    Also, if the site is within a shoreland district, the community's Shoreland Management regulations would still require minimum elevations.

    Online NFIP Training Options

    FREE! Online NFIP Training

    Webinar participation is free, but registration is required.

    NO SHOW Policy: If you cannot make the training, you must cancel 24 hours before the class is scheduled. Failure to attend two or more classes without notice will affect your eligibility to register for future classes.

    Online learning

    • CRS: Intro to CRS, July 12 @ 12 pm (central)
    • CRS: The Role of the Community CRS Coordinator, July 13 @ 12 pm (central)
    • Letters of Map Change, July 14 @ 12 pm (central)
    • Tools for Determining BFE, July 28 @ 12 pm (central)
    • CRS: Preparing and Annual Recertification, August 16 @ 12 pm (central)
    • CRS: Developing Outreach Projects (Activity 330), August 17 @ 12 pm (central)
    • NFIP Basics, August 25 @ 12 pm (central)
    • CRS: Preparing an Impact Adjustment Map, September 27 @ 12 pm (central)
    • CRS: Flood Warning & Response (Activity 610), September 28 @ 12 pm (central)

    FEMA Map Updates - Scheduled/Anticipated Dates

       (And updates since March 2016 Water Talk)

    New Maps Effective:

    • Hennepin County - November 4, 2016

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

      • Hennepin County – May 4, 2016
      • Crow Wing County - September 2016 (anticipated)
      • Roseau County - September 2016 (anticipated)
      • Olmsted County - October 2016 (anticipated)
      • Marshall County - December 2016 (anticipated)
      • Houston County - December 2016 (anticipated)
      • Kittson County - December 2016 (anticipated)
      • Scott County – December 2016 (anticipated)
      • Blue Earth County – Uncertain (on hold - levee issues)

       90-Day Appeal Periods:

      • Olmsted County (2nd) – March 17 to June 17, 2016 (for Eyota & Pine Island)
      • Roseau County (2nd) – March 22 to June 22, 2016 (for Badger)
      • Houston County - May 26 to August 26, 2016
      • Fillmore County - July to October 2016 (anticipated)
      • Wright County – July to October 2016 (anticipated)
      • Carver County – October 2016 to January 2017 (anticipated)
      • Nicollet County – Uncertain (on hold - levee seclusion question)

       Open Houses/Local Official/Resilience Meetings:

      • Carver County - July 19, 2016 (local officials meeting)
      • Marshall County - June 29, 2016 (Halstad & Hendrum levee meetings)
      • Blue Earth & Nicollet Counties - June 30, 2016 (North Mankato levee meeting)
      • Fillmore County - July 12, 2016 am  (resilience meeting)
      • Blue Earth County - July 12, 2016 pm (resilience meeting)
      • Nicollet County - July 13, 2016 am  (resilience meeting)
      • Yellow Medicine - July 13, 2016 pm  (resilience meeting)
      • Marshall County - July 14, 2016 am  (resilience meeting)
      • Yellow Medicine County - late August 2016 (local official meeting)
      • Wilkin Counties - TBD (resilience meeting)

       New Preliminary Maps:

      • Fillmore County (revised) – April 29, 2016 (levee & updated A zone panels)
      • Yellow Medicine County (revised) - July 2016 (anticipated)
      • Marshall County (revised) - August 2016 (anticipated)
      • Winona County – September 2016 (anticipated)
      • Chippewa County – Uncertain (on hold - levee seclusion question)

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

      Zoning Challenge Answer

      Part of the MT-1 CAF

      Sorry, but I can't sign this.

      I need proof that our local floodplain regulations are met before I can sign the form.

      • For new and substantially improved structures our ordinance requires the lowest floor - including the basement - to be above the Regulatory Flood Protection Elevation (RFPE). The RFPE is at least one foot higher than the BFE.
      • For existing structures, federal regulations (44 CRF 65.5 (4) (i)) require that our community assure the lowest floor (which includes basements) is above the BFE.

      NOTE: Learn more about LOMR-Fs in this newsletter's article on "LOMR-Fs -  Some Basics and Historical Context"

      Aha! image

       Keep in mind . . .

      Let's say someone applies for a LOMR-F, shows the lowest adjacent grade is above the BFE, but does not provide the lowest floor elevation. The FEMA reviewer cannot ask for the lowest floor (since it is not one of the data requirements listed in the federal regulations (44 CFR 65.5 (a)).

      However, if the application has the low floor elevation, and it is below the BFE, the case will be flagged for FEMA headquarters to review as a potential violation.

      Or if there is any other reason to believe there is a violation, the community can be asked for supporting information.  The Community Acknowledgement Form the community official signs includes the statement "we have available upon request by DHS-FEMA, all analyses and documentation used to make this determination."