Water Talk DNR newsletter - September 2016

Water Talk

September 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 

Register NOW! One Day Trainings on Floodplain and Shoreland Regulations for Local Officials, Etc.

(This is a repeat of the article that was in the June 2016 Water Talk, except that the Rochester date has been set.)

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.

Map of training locations
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

Zoning Challenge - Where's the Lowest Adjacent Grade for Window Well?


Is the lowest adjacent grade (LAG) determined at the “lip” of a window well or the bottom of the window well? 

Same question with basement doors (step down) … is the LAG the ground around the top step, or the bottom of the stairwell / entry door?

window well photo

See bottom of this Water Talk newsletter for answer.

Registration Opening for 2016 MnAFPM Annual Conference

Preparing for a Cloudy Day

Registration for the 2016 MNAFPM conference will open on September, 15. The conference will be held at the Best Western Plus, Kelly Inn in St. Cloud, MN on November 16-18, 2016. 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.

MnAFPM logo

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 an all-day National Floodplain Basics Review and the Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) exam as well as training sessions and a field tour. The conference will also include vendor exhibits and networking opportunities.

Please register online between September 15th and October 31st to get the early bird discount and book your hotel room early to get the discounted group rate. 

Have questions about 2016 MnAFPM Annual Conference? Click here or  Contact Minnesota Association of Floodplain Managers

Certified Floodplain Manager Exam Opportunity - November 18th

As part of the Minnesota Association of Floodplain Managers conference November 16-17, 2016 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Certified Floodplain Managers (CFM®) Exam will be offered at the conference site on November 18, 2016.

In order to take the CFM exam, you must complete and submit the CFM Program Application Package to the ASFPM. The forms are available on the ASFPM website www.floods.org under the Certification Program tab. The fee for taking the exam is $100 for ASFPM members and $450 for non-members. You may submit an application for ASFPM membership at the same time as applying to take the CFM® exam.

In order to be accepted to take the Certified Floodplain Managers Exam at the conference, you must submit your completed application along with the appropriate fee to ASFPM by November 4, 2016. 

No walk-ins will be allowed unless authorized by the ASFPM Executive office.

Regulating Campgrounds in Flood-Prone Areas

Damaged RV in campground after flood

People are often surprised when they discover that new campgrounds are not allowed in flood-prone areas. In fact, it had only recently come to the attention of our own floodplain program staff that Minnesota Department of Health prohibits it, as outlined in Minnesota Rules, Section 4630:

4630.0200 LOCATION.

No mobile home park or recreational camping area shall be so located that drainage from the park or camp area will endanger any water supply. All such parks and camps shall be well drained and no portion of the park or camp shall be located in an area subject to flooding…

Most floodplain overlay districts only regulate the areas within the FEMA mapped 1% annual chance floodplain ("100-year floodplain"), but the "area subject to flooding" language implies that campgrounds are prohibited in all areas subject to flooding – mapped and unmapped. It would be up to each community to best interpret where this would apply in areas outside of FEMA mapped high flood zones.

The draw to establish a campground in such areas is understandable given their proximity to water, recreational resources, and the availability of space. Most of us have likely encountered such a campground currently located in a floodplain. They are very common. All of these should be treated as nonconforming uses, which would also limit their expansion.

If you do have a location you were hoping to develop as a campground, maybe there are areas that can accommodate campsites outside of the floodplain. Anyone that’s had a spoiled camping trip certainly knows that camping near water has its advantages over camping IN water!

2017 NFIP Reform

US capital building

2017 National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Reform?

The 2012 Biggert-Waters Act extended the NFIP five years - to September 2017. At a minimum, the NFIP needs to be extended before that expiration date. Landowners with buildings in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) - i.e., the "100-year floodplain -  are mandated to purchase flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage (or secured loan). When the NFIP expires, new and renewed flood insurance policies cannot be purchased. All agree - including national realtor and home builder organizations - the NFIP should not be allowed to expire.

However, many ideas for NFIP reform are being considered, and there is a wide range of opinions coming from floodplain managers, home builders, the insurance industry, etc. For the best up to date information on proposals and recommendations for reform based on the experience of the professionals working with floodplain management and flood risk reduction around the country, see the Association of State Floodplain Managers' (ASFPM) Upcoming 2017 NFIP Reauthorization and Reform web page, including the one page “ASFPM Principles for NFIP reauthorization and reform in 2017” and the two page “ASFPM Priorities for NFIP reauthorization and reform in 2017.”

Floodplain Culverts - Example During Construction

Floodplain culvert example

What: The graphic (above) demonstrates one of the first of an ongoing MnDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources initiative to promote application of land form measurements into site design of infrastructure.

Where: Located in the new Whitewater State Park campground, the final engineered design utilized information from a Geomorphic Site Assessment to improve the site design.

To learn more about floodplain culverts and connectivity, see the article in the March 2016 Water Talk or visit the following webpage: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/streamhab/geomorphology/index.html

Changes Coming for Federally Funded Projects: FEMA Draft Rules Out for Federal Flood Risk Management Standards

Citizens recognize that it doesn't make sense to use federal money to rebuild buildings and infrastructure in places where we know that building or culvert crossing will be destroyed again in the next flood. If we need to build or rebuild in the high risk flood areas, we want to see it built in a way that is resilient and not vulnerable to repeated damage. This will save future taxpayer money, but even more importantly, it can prevent deaths and the costs associated with damage to homes and businesses. 

The public and our elected officials increasing recognize that the requirement to build above the current mapped "100-year" elevations isn't enough. We need to recognize that more development leads to greater flooding risk, and that ongoing changes in climate are or will increase flood risks in many areas of the country. 

What Are the Current Standards?

E.O. 11988 was signed by President Carter in 1977. Federally funded projects have been required to meet the basic National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) standards such as elevating the lowest floor above the base flood elevation (BFE), or the 100-year flood elevation. Federally funded critical facilities have been required to be outside of the 500-year floodplain.

There is also an eight step evaluation process to avoid, minimize and mitigate the project impacts..

What Standards Are Proposed?

President Obama signed Executive Order 13690 in January 2015. E.O. 13690 amended the 1977 E.O. 11988 that is currently being used for federally funded projects.

Key changes in E.O. 13690 include:

-   Encourages use of nature-based approaches in alternative evaluation

-   Agencies can choose from the following Federal Flood Risk Management Standards (FFRMS) approaches:

  1. Climate-Informed Science Approach (CISA): Utilizing the best-available, actionable hydrologic and hydraulic data and methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science;
  2. Freeboard Value Approach (FVA): Freeboard (base flood elevation + X, where X is
    3 feet for critical actions and 2 feet for other actions); 
  3. 0.2 percent annual chance Flood Approach (0.2PFA): 0.2 percent annual chance flood (also known as the 500-year flood); or
  4. the elevation and flood hazard area that result from using any other method identified in an update to the FFRMS

-  The CISA is noted as the preferred approach when data to support the analysis are available

FFRMS Freeboard approach - flat example

 -  When using the freeboard approach, E.O. 13690 calls for a horizontal extension. This involves adding the 2 feet (or 3 feet for critical actions) to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and redraw the boundary of the FVA area based on that 2 foot (or 3 foot) higher elevation. If the federally funded project is in that expanded area, the project must be designed for the BFE + 2' elevation.  The figure above (from the FEMA proposed rules document) shows an example of how far the regulated area could be extended in a flatter area.

How Will The FFRMS Affect My Community?

The types of projects subject to E.O. 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standards (FFRMS) are not expected to change, and the new standards will apply to the projects that start (or start the planning process) after the date the final rules become effective. The FFRMS will apply to projects being constructed - at least in part - with federal funds. 

Each agency will give more detailed guidance, but in the proposed FEMA rules they note that construction or reconstruction projects funded under:

  • Public Assistance program (post disaster assistance for public buildings & infrastructure)
  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) - grants available after a federal disaster declaration that can be used statewide
  • Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMA) -  nationally competitive grants
  • NOTE: In Minnesota, the priority for use of the HMGP federal grant funds has been for acquisition of higher risk flood prone properties by willing sellers. Elevation projects - which would be subject to these standards - have been rare.

"Critical Actions" include constructing or repairing buildings like hospitals & nursing homes, emergency operation centers, generating plants, etc.

Each federal agency will do rule making or policy changes for their programs. For many communities, another important federal funding source is HUD, and they are expected to release proposed rules to address the FFRMS soon.    

For More on FEMA's Proposed FFRMS Rules That Are Out For Review and Comment

The FEMA web page on the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) has background on E.O 13690 and the draft implementing guidelines for the federal agencies. They also include fact sheets prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in response to frequently asked questions they have received in response to E.O. 13690.   

Further down that FEMA page is a link titled “Open Comment Period Until 10/21/2016: FEMA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for to amend regulations and implementing Executive Order 13690 for Floodplain Management and Protection of Wetlands.” This section includes instructions on how to comment and access to additional background.

FEMA's New Mitigation Grant Categories - Climate Resilient Activities

Through Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA), FEMA provides an average of $700 million annually in hazard mitigation grants, and now these grants can be used for a variety of climate resilient mitigation activities.  In September 2015, FEMA added three new grant categories to the HMA portfolio and these changes were described as the Climate Resilient Mitigation Activities (CRMA) initiative.  The three CRMA project types are Floodplain and Stream Restoration, Flood Diversion and Storage, and Aquifer Storage and Recovery.

FEMA’s grants are provided through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) grants and the new grant eligible categories address issues of climate adaptation, resilience, and mitigation.  These new climate resilient activities are consistent with a series of plans and Presidential directives including Executive Order 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change; the President’s 2013 Climate Action Plan; FEMA’s Climate Change Adaption Policy; and FEMA’s 2014-2018 Strategic Plan.

CRMA projects are not the typical project FEMA supports after a disaster, such as buying out homes, building flood control structures, and improving flood water conveyance.  The goal of a CMRA project is often the restoration of natural systems, protection of the environment, and the reduction of risk associated with significant changes in local climate conditions.  CRMA projects, through their focus on green infrastructure, reducing impacts to the ecosystem, and climate adaptation, provide a community with viable alternatives to simply building more pipes, more pumps, and more treatment facilities.  Indeed, in some cases, CRMA-like projects serve to undo the damage caused by well-meaning, but poorly planned “solutions” such as straightening and channelizing streams and building flood control features that adversely affect downstream communities.

The new grant categories address a series of issues that have been highlighted in state and local plans related to changing weather conditions and changing risks patterns.  The new grant categories include:

  •  Floodplain and Stream Restoration (FSR) projects include re-establishing the function of ecosystems and floodplains as close to their original state as possible.  The objective of the floodplain and stream restoration projects is restoring the hydrologic and biologic functions of environmentally sensitive properties  Typically these projects restore flood storage capacity of lands adjacent to rivers and streams and they often restore the biological function of wetlands to filter pollutants out of storm and flood waters.

  • As the name implies, Flood Diversion and Storage (FDS) projects involve diverting floodwaters into above-ground storage areas where the excess water will cause minimal impact to residents, property, and infrastructure.  The key to FDS projects is green infrastructure methods—such improvements as rain gardens, bio swales, and areas for flood water retention or detention.  However, the goal is not simply temporary water storage for the sake of keeping it out of homes and businesses during a flood, but rather FDS projects seek to take a long view and “re-use” that extra water for tomorrow’s needs by allowing it to slowly seep back into the ground.

  • Finally, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), involves the capture and storage of excess water in an underground aquifer.  The storage of water underground eliminates many of the problems and dangers associated with surface water storage.  In areas of the dry and arid Southwest, the protection and restoration of natural aquifers and aquifer recharge areas are often a critical issue in community development and resilience.  Holding the water underground protects this valuable resource from evaporation, most pollutants, and extreme weather.  Furthermore, as the water is below the ground, there is generally less infrastructure to build and maintain, and there is no worry of the flooding that can occur in the event of a catastrophic dam or levee failure.

Fact Sheets on all of the CRMA initiative project types may be found on FEMA’s website at https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/110202.

CRMA proposals may be considered under the HMA program for those projects that are a result of a major disaster declared on or after September 30, 2015, and for competitive Pre Disaster Mitigation and Flood Mitigation Assistance funding for which the application period opened on or after September 30, 2015.

Like other HMA projects, CRMA proposals must demonstrate that they reduce risk and are cost effective.  Fortunately, FEMA has developed a Benefit-Cost Analysis tool to be used in the development and implementation of CRMA projects.  Additional information on the BCA tools may be found on FEMA’s website at https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/110202.

In the long term, these grant categories reflect new priorities for FEMA’s mitigation grants and they should be discussed at mitigation planning meetings, public Risk MAP actions, and during other mitigation-related activities.  In addition, CRMA projects and others like them should be incorporated into new and revised state and local hazard mitigation plans.

Additional information on CRMA and HMA may be found by visiting https://www.fema.gov/climate-resilient-mitigation-activities-hazard-mitigation-assistance and https://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-grant-program.

Article provided by FEMA Region 5

FEMA Map Updates - Scheduled/Anticipated Dates

(And updates since last Water Talk)

 New Maps Effective:

    • Hennepin County – November 4, 2016

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

        • Olmsted County – October 19, 2016 (anticipated)
        • Roseau County – October 19, 2016 (anticipated)
        • Scott County – Q1 2017 (anticipated)
        • Houston County – Q1 2017 (anticipated)
        • Crow Wing County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
        • Polk County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
        • Marshall County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
        • Blue Earth County – Uncertain (on hold - levee issues)
        • Kittson County – Uncertain (On hold - levee & ring dike issues)

           90-Day Appeal Periods:

            • Houston County – May 26 to August 26, 2016
            • Wright County – August 4 to November 4, 2016
            • Fillmore County – September to December 2016 (anticipated)
            • Carver County – November  2016 to February 2017 (anticipated)
            • Nicollet County – Uncertain (on hold - levee seclusion question)

             Open Houses/Resilience Meetings:

            • Carlton County (Modernization kick-off) – 9/13/2016 pm
            • Itasca County (Modernization kick-off) – 9/14/2016 am
            • Aitkin County (Modernization kick-off) – 9/14/2016 pm\
            • Pennington County (Modernization kick-off) – 10/1 or 10/2/2016
            • Red Lake County (Modernization kick-off) – 10/1 or 10/2/2016
            • Hennepin County (Special meeting for cities/watersheds; FAQs with new maps on LOMAs & flood insurance) - 10/12/2016 pm
            • Rock County (Modernization kick-off) – 12/6 or 12/7/2016
            • Pipestone County (Modernization kick-off) – 12/6 or 12/7/2016
            • Lincoln County (Modernization kick-off) – 12/6 or 12/7/2016
            • Wilkin County – TBD (resilience meeting

             New Preliminary Maps:

            • Yellow Medicine County - August 29, 2016
            • Marshall County - September 2016 (anticipated)
            • Chippewa County – November 2016 (anticipated)
            • Winona County – November 2016 (anticipated)
            • Blue Earth County (revised) – Q4 2016 (anticipated; with non-accredited North Mankato levee)

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

            Zoning Challenge Answer

            Answer: At base of stairwell / entry door example

            LAG by sunken back door

            At step down to back door or within floodwall example - The lowest adjacent grade (LAG) would be taken on the landing or patio adjacent to the structure.


            window well LAG example

            Answer: At window well example

            The Lowest Adjacent Grade (LAG) is taken at the base of the window well. It is NOT taken at the "lip" of the window well.



            If the applicant could provide elevations around the perimeter of the window well or stairs to demonstrate intervening high ground (assuming that no fill was placed) FEMA will accept that elevation.  Here is an excerpt from the FEMA MT-1 procedures:

            Can the intervening high ground consideration be used in cases involving loading docks and window wells?

            The LAG must be taken at the bottom of the loading dock or window well.  However, we may use the intervening high ground consideration only if the request is based on natural ground, no fill, and the requestor has provided adequate topography to demonstrate that there is sufficient high ground preventing flood waters from reaching the lowest point of the structure (window well or loading dock).  The LAG should be included in the determination and the intervening high ground additional consideration paragraph should be used.

            EC Diagram 2B

            ON A RELATED NOTE:

            FEMA's 2015 Elevation Certificate added Diagram 2B since this question has become more common. Diagram 2B is used for the sunken patios - as shown in the diagram - seen in some of the bigger cities. It is also used for when there is just the door / landing area common in many parts of the U.S., including Minnesota.