Water Talk DNR newsletter - December 2016

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources header

Water Talk

December 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 

Higher Standards Spotlight – Establishment of Buffers in Itasca County

One of the most effective things a community can do for water quality is to promote the establishment and maintenance of natural shoreline vegetation. Many of our lakes and rivers are bordered by manicured lawns, which contribute sediment and fertilizer inputs that cause algae blooms and oxygen loss. These types of landscapes do a very poor job of stabilizing the soil and are vulnerable to erosion due to wave action and ice ridges. Lawns also provide favorable land-water access points for Canadian geese, which are a nuisance and contribute to water quality problems. More and more, communities are recognizing and embracing vegetative buffers where possible as a means to improving water quality.

benefit of buffer photo

 A good management practice is to require a riparian buffer as a condition of approval for variances, conditional uses and other permits. Conditions need to be related to and proportional to the impact caused by the permitted activity. Attaching conditions is further supported when communities have standards requiring a riparian buffer. This simple condition can be quite effective at countering the effects of development and is often more effective and less expensive than engineered approaches or riprap.

Itasca County has gone a step further. Like many communities, county staff require buffers as a condition tied to CUPs and variances. In addition to this, Itasca County has eased restrictions on nonconforming structures on riparian lots in exchange for higher protections along the shoreline. In 2008, Itasca County pursued implementation flexibility per Minnesota Rules 6120.2800, Subp. 3. Through this flexibility agreement, the county may now permit limited landward expansion of nonconforming structures without a variance, provided they establish a vegetative buffer “…consisting of trees, shrubs, and ground cover of native plants and understory…”. Buffer widths vary based on the classification of the water body and are subject to local design review and long-term monitoring to verify compliance. Itasca County details these provisions in §5.8, 5.9.1, 4.5.1, and 4.5.2 of their zoning ordinance.

The DNR encourages local governments to adopt innovative solutions to address water quality. Flexibility is a very useful tool to accomplish this. We encourage communities to engage their local Area Hydrologists to discuss ideas for higher standards and opportunities for implementation.

Toolkit for Flood Emergency Action Plans

In August, 2016 the St. Paul District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers released an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) Guidebook (Version 2.0) which is a step by step guide to the development of a flood emergency action plan. The guidebook is designed as an aid to the staff of small cities, villages, and tribal communities who don’t have an EAP and who don’t have extensive experience with flood disasters. The guidebook can be downloaded at http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Flood-Risk-Management/Emergency-Action-Plan-Guidebook/

The guidebook covers the basic topics that would need to be addressed in a plan. Numerous forms in the guidebook can simply be “filled-in” with information specific to the community. The topics covered include:

Emergency Action Plan cover  

 1.      Delegation of authority for response/recovery under local laws.

 2.      Formulation of Mutual Aid Agreements

 3.      The Organizing of Flood Response Personnel

 4.      Planning for Evacuations

 5.      Planning for Temporary Shelter

 6.      Steps to Protecting Utilities and Critical Facilities

 7.      Communications

 8.      Train, exercises and mitigation planning

 Earlier this year staff of the U.S. Corps of Engineers conducted “how-to” workshops on the use of the Emergency Action Plan Guidebook for communities located in the Red River of the North Basin. An additional set of workshops are expected to be held in late January in the Minnesota River Valley. The dates and location of these meetings will be posted at http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices/

The need for a Flood Emergency Action Plan was highlighted by the recent flooding in southeastern Minnesota. Cities like Waseca and Owatonna were required to organize all local resources to adequately respond to the flood. City of Waseca officials had to evacuate some homeowners and find temporary shelter for these property owners. Numerous towns relied on mutual aid to help reopen roads and bridges and to care for the residents affected.

A good plan speeds recovery. A good plan highlights areas where communities can take steps to prevent of mitigate losses.

Save the Dates: Floodplain/Shoreland Workshops - Traditional & NEW Special Topic Versions of One Day Trainings

In 2017 we will be offering three one day training options:

  1. Standard Floodplain/Shoreland Workshop
  2. Special Topics (floodplain focus) Workshop
  3. County Selected Topics Workshop

See below for more on the options.

Current 2017 workshop dates & locations:

Training locations table


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 topics of most interest.

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 with training locations

If you are interested in any of these trainings, please RSVP by one week before the training date. 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 one week in advance will help us prepare. (And occasionally a training is cancelled due to low registration numbers.)

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

More about the workshop options:

Standard Floodplain/Shoreland Workshop - DNR Floodplain staff have been offering a one day workshop for many years. That training was expanded to have two tracks in fall 2015 to allow additional options, including modules by our Shoreland Management staff. Current modules include: Floodplain basics; FEMA map, updates & change basics; Higher Standards; Shoreland Management basics; Variances (shoreland emphasis); Interpreting FEMA maps; Floodplain administration basics; and Letters of Map Change.                                                                                                                                                 

NEW "Special Topics" Workshop - This workshop is expected to offer up to ten of the  modules. A survey will be sent in the next 1-2 months to determine which modules we will include. The current options we are considering include:

  • Obtaining mitigation grants
  • Preparation for flooding
  • Elevation Certificates
  • Nonconformities & Substantial Damage/Improvement
  • Advanced FP administration – CUPs, and small group case studies
  • Shoreland new model ordinance
  • Levees (accredited vs nonaccredited; O&M; private nonaccredited)
  • Meander belts
  • Floodplain culverts & bank stabilization (causes and options to address)
  • Flood Insurance (since not in “Basic” training now since we needed more time for map reading and demonstrating web resources)
  • Community Rating System (CRS) and other options to reduce flood insurance costs (payback to elevate/floodproof and possible funding options)  

NEW - County Selected Topics Workshop - As part of the County Modernization effort (see following related article in this Water Talk) many counties around the state will host a workshop within their county. The communities within the county will select the topics from modules on how to use the products of the modernization effort and the modules we have in our standard or special topics workshops. All are welcome to attend those workshops.

County Modernization Effort

County Modernization counties

Over the next two years, MnDNR staff and FEMA will be developing hydraulic models and estimating base flood elevations in 14 counties across the state (see map).  This effort, called County Modernization, provides a way to quickly develop limited detail HEC-RAS models for Zone A reaches (most of which were previously not modeled) to help with BFE estimates in these counties. 

MnDNR and FEMA will also be providing outreach and training to the communities in these areas as part of this effort.  If you have questions about the County Modernization project, please contact floodplain unit staff.

Zoning Challenge - Minimum Elevations Just Outside Mapped Floodplain (in Shoreland District)

You are the local floodplain administrator. A landowner has talked to you about building a new house. Your ordinance requires a 100 foot setback from the lake, so the site will clearly be outside of the mapped high risk floodplain (Zone AE in this case).

Do the requirements of your floodplain management ordinance apply? Is there a minimum elevation requirement?

zoning challenge site - outside of FP

 See bottom of this Water Talk newsletter for answer.

APA/ASFPM Subdivision Design and Flood Hazard Areas PAS Report

The American Planning Association (APA) observed that a lot has changed since they released its first PAS Report on Subdivision Design and Flood Hazard Areas in 1997. Today sustainability, resilience, and climate change are on the minds of planners and floodplain managers.

In response, the APA and the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) worked cooperatively on the 2016 update that is now available.

 Read more about this new PAS report and download or purchase the report at the APA Subdivision Design and Flood Hazard Areas web site.

  Subdivision PAS cover

No Adverse Impacts (NAI) "How-to Guides"

NAI infrastructure how-to guide cover  

The Association of State Floodplain Mangers (ASFPM) has been educating on the No Adverse Impact (NAI) approach to floodplain management for many years. In the past few years the following "How to Guides" have been published:

  • Education & Outreach (9/2015)
  • Planning (5/2015)
  • Mitigation (updated 8/2016)
  • Infrastructure (updated 8/2016)

These guides are targeted at local officials. Each how-to guide includes background on the topic, plus many ideas and case studies. See the ASFPM NAI web page to access these guides, and much more!

How-to Guides for Useful Web Sites Updated


MnDNR floodplain program staff have prepared two page step-by-step instructions on how to use many useful web sites.  The following have been updated since the last Water Talk issue:


  1. FEMA Map Service Center
  2. FEMA’s National flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) viewer
  3. Obtaining Floodplain Data at Minnesota Geospatial Commons
  4. DNR Floodplain Program FTP site


These updated how-to guides (or tutorials) – and links to the sites - are also available on the MnDNR Floodplain program “Floodplain Maps and Technical Resources” web page.


  example of how to guide

Floodplain Culverts - When Do They Make Sense?

In the July 2014 Water Talk we talked about “One and Done: Culvert and Bridge Repair After Flooding.” In a nutshell, if a bridge or culvert needs to be replaced, we don’t want to waste taxpayer money or put lives at risk by using the same design that failed. We have been strongly promoting the use of "floodplain culverts" as an effective method for preventing blowouts while while maintaining a natural system. An article on the floodplain culvert concept in the March 2016 Water Talk gave more details on how floodplain culverts work. The September 2016 Water Talk provides a good example of a newly constructed floodplain culvert. 

Do you have locations that are good candidates for installing floodplain culverts? Following are examples of scenarios where floodplain culverts should be considered.

Some common situations to consider floodplain culverts:

  • High maintenance culverts; ones that continually fill with sediment.
  • A culvert or bridge was blown out.
  • Road overtopping occurs during severe storm events.
  • Re-designing for higher flows as part of a community master plan.
  • Any road project where sufficient embankment exists.
  • A deep (entrenched) channel contributing excessive sediment from bank erosion (i.e. actively moving channel).
  • A road with a floodplain higher on the upstream side when compared to the downstream side.
  • A stream with a heavily eroded channel due to concentrated flows on the downstream side of the road.

Benefits of floodplain culverts for flood mitigation:

Address road over-topping:

Culvert design options

Roads are often low at bridge and culvert crossings. This leads to water going over the road, thereby restricting access to homes and critical facilities. These situations pose both a safety concern and a potential floodplain violation. 

Minnesota floodplain requirements state that “all subdivisions must have road access both to the subdivision and to the individual sites no lower than two (2) feet below the regulatory flood protection elevation, unless a flood warning emergency plan for the safe evacuation of all vehicles and people during the regional (1% annual chance) flood has been approved by the Governing Body.” Given this situation, it is a common design practice to raise the road to prevent floodwaters overtopping the road. 

However, a certain amount of fill is required to raise a road, which raises the flood levels. If the project is located in a FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) a Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR) is required for ANY flood level increase. The CLOMR is a relatively lengthy and costly process requiring submittal of a  comprehensive study.   CLOMRs are only approved if the project meets state and federal laws, and are note easy to obtain. 

Alternatively, installing floodplain culverts can often compensate for the reduced conveyance. By adding floodplain culverts, an engineer can certify that the project will cause "no rise" and the project can be approved at the community level.  In some cases, placing floodplain culverts may alleviate the need to elevate the road; due to improved conveyance gained from this newly established floodplain connection.

Adaption to climate change:

EPA projects an increase in damages, due to greater flood frequencies, at a nationwide average of $750 million by 2100. According to the recent precipitation data analysis in the NOAA Atlas 14 report, the intensity of heavy rain events has increased significantly. This increase has a high likelihood of impacting infrastructure.  Both localized events affecting urban drainage systems and riverine floods, where flows exceed channel capacity, are expected to increase. In lieu of increasing the size of on-channel openings and further concentrating heavy flows to the channel, it is recommended to distribute the flood flows on the floodplain (overbanks), thus better adapting the road design to this anticipated change of increased run-off.

Improved river system response to floods:

Floodplain culverts improve river systems resiliency by establishing floodplain connectivity through the roadway where (commonly) none exists.  By considering the channel and floodplain as two interconnected but independent entities in our hydraulic analysis and design, we can maintain natural beneficial functions of floodplains.

Re-establish vital role of floodplains to sediment management:

By maintaining natural flow dynamics of both channel and floodplain through the road, impact to the river system will be minimized and in turn will reduce maintenance and increase longevity of the infrastructure .

Additional resources:

The Ecological and Water Resources (EWR) Division has been working to promote an approach to improve infrastructure design (e.g., culverts, bridges, etc.) by integrating local landform metrics into site design. This approach involves defining the site’s channel and floodplain land form, then applying these values into site design. For more information about floodplain culverts, please visit our website at the following link: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/streamhab/geomorphology/index.html

For questions, concerns, and input into this work feel free to contact either of the two primary investigators: 

Kevin Zytkovicz, Stream Habitat Program, Kevin.Zytkovicz@state.mn.us, 651-259-5151

Salam Murtada, Land Use Section, Salam.Murtada@state.mn.us, 651-259-5688

Making a Flood Insurance Claim Hints

Steve Samuelson has flood insurance on his own home. Steve got a packet of information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about his policy and a flood loss history of the property. Every flood insurance policy holder should have gotten a similar packet. Included with the packet was a copy of the “Flood Insurance Claims Handbook” FEMA publication F-687 (August 2014).

Flood debris for adjuster to see

The short easy to read handbook explains the process of filing a flood insurance claim. The booklet is divided in to three main sections.

  1. What to do before a flood;
  2. What to do after a flood; and
  3. Addressing questions about your flood insurance claim.

The handbook has a lot of good advice in it. Here are just a few of the many tips:

  • Contact your insurance company or agent immediately.
  • Have a copy of your policy number when you make the initial call. Your agent will advise you how to file a written notice of loss.
  • Take lots of pictures.
  • In the case that you can’t save damaged materials for the adjuster then take photos and save 12” square samples of the carpeting and sheet rock that had to be removed.
  • Make a list of damaged contents including information about brand names and replacement costs. Make another list of damages to the structure.

An Adjuster will contact you about visiting your property. Ask to see the Adjuster’s identification and assist the Adjuster in order that he or she may better assist you. The Adjuster will complete a detailed estimate of damages and provide you with a Proof of Loss.

That Proof of Loss is your official claim for damages. The Proof of Loss must be completed, signed and turned in to the insurance company within 60 days after the loss occurs.

Review the handbook so you know how to help advise your citizens after a flood event.

From December 2016 "Kansas Floodplain Tips" Newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Photo source: Dan Gleiter, The Patriot News

Maplewood's Rain Gardens

In October 2016, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce presented the Maplewood Public Works Department with this year’s Leaders in Local Government Public Works Award for Excellence in Operations. The award recognizes the department’s innovative programs, including its “living streets design standards” and its stormwater management through street design. The city’s “livable streets” policy combines objectives for pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets with the incorporation of green infrastructure.

The city of Maplewood’s Department of Public Works has designed and constructed an extensive system of rain gardens throughout the town of 30,000 people. Today the city has more than 700 home rain gardens and 60-plus city-owned rain gardens. A rain garden is a shallow depression that collects rain water and allows it to infiltrate the soil. It’s planted with species that can tolerate a wide range of soil moisture.

The city encourages the use of rain gardens on both public and private land.

Maplewood rain garden example

Rain gardens on Maplewood street reconstruction projects. The Department of Public Works has made the construction of rain gardens a routine part of street reconstruction projects. Since 1996, the city has installed over 700 boulevard raingardens and over 60 city rain gardens as part of street reconstruction projects. When streets are being updated, the city installs rain gardens on the parkway portion of public streets and on the properties of neighboring homeowners willing to carry out maintenance. Rain gardens on private property. Maplewood encourages and assists residents to build their own rain gardens. The Department of Public Works has developed design guidelines and simple illustrations for the construction of rain gardens. The city and other local environmental groups have conducted workshops on installing rain gardens. Most yards in the city have room for a rain garden that can collect roof runoff or runoff from driveways or other impervious surfaces.

Rain gardens for new developments and existing businesses. Maplewood encourages developers and businesses to consider rain gardens when determining how best to manage stormwater runoff from their site. The area mall (Maplewood Mall) has installed rain gardens at its east entrance and in a ring surrounding the mall.

Information about the city’s rain garden system can be found at http://maplewoodmn.gov/1032/Rain-Gardens. The city’s suggestions for building a private rain garden can be viewed http://maplewoodmn.gov/1034/Create-Your-Own-Rain-Garden. The process for including a rain garden as part of a city street reconstruction project can be viewed at http://maplewoodmn.gov/1033/Street-Projects.

Article provided by FEMA Region 5

May 1-5, 2017 - Save the Date for ASFPM Annual Conference

ASFPM conference logo

Registration for the 2017 Association of State Floodplain Managers should open in February 2017. (The call for abstracts ended on October 31, 2016.)

This national conference brings floodplain practitioners from from around the county together to hear about the latest national news, guidance, laws and thoughts on the direction of floodplain management. Many workshops are offered, and eight concurrent tracks cover topics on technical mapping issues, education & outreach, no adverse impact projects, floodplain policies & insurance, and much more.

Go to the website for the ASFPM 2017 conference to learn more.

FEMA Map Updates - Scheduled/Anticipated Dates

(And updates since last Water Talk)

New Maps Effective:

  • Hennepin County – November 4, 2016
  • Olmsted County - April 19, 2017
  • Roseau County - April 19, 2017

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

  • Olmsted County – October 19, 2016
  • Roseau County – October 19, 2016
  • Crow Wing County - February 15, 2017 (anticipated)
  • Kittson County - March 29, 2017 (anticipated)
  • Scott County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
  • Polk County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
  • Marshall County – Summer 2017 (anticipated)
  • Wright County - Summer 2017 (anticipated)
  • Houston County – Q3 2017 (anticipated)
  • Blue Earth County – Uncertain (on hold - levee issues)

 90-Day Appeal Periods:


  • Wright County - August 4 to November 4, 2016
  • Carver County – December 29, 2016 to March 29, 2017 (anticipated)
  • Fillmore County – January to April 2017 (anticipated)
  • Nicollet County – Uncertain (on hold - levee seclusion question)




 Open Houses/Resilience Meetings:


  • Koochiching & Lake of the Woods Counties (Modernization kick-off) - 12/12/2016
  • Rock County (Modernization kick-off) – 12/13/2016 am
  • Lincoln & Pipestone County (Modernization kick-off) – 12/13/2016 pm
  • Morrison County (Modernization kick-off) – 1/11/2017
  • Cottonwood & Watonwan Counties (Modernization kick-off) - 1/10/2017
  • LeSueur County (Modernization kick-off) - 1/10/2017
  • Watonwan County (Modernization kick-off) - January 2017 (anticipated)
  • Wilkin County – TBD (resilience meeting



 New Preliminary Maps:



  • Marshall County (revised) - October 20, 2016
  • Fillmore County (revised) - January 2017 (anticipated)
  • Scott County (revised) - March 2017 (anticipated)
  • Blue Earth County (revised) – Q3 2017 (anticipated; with non-accredited North Mankato levee)
  • Winona County – Summer 2018 (anticipated)
  • Chippewa County – ????

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

Zoning Challenge Answer

The answer is that it depends . . .

Community with NO Shoreland Management ordinance or other higher standards

If a community only has floodplain management regulations, the minimum elevation requirement only applies within the FEMA mapped high risk zones. In our example, the building site is entirely outside of the high flood risk zone (AE Zone), so if the local ordinance is silent on minimum elevations, there is no minimum elevation for that site.

aha graphic

Recommended practice: Note - in writing - that they have a higher flooding risk at that location. Include a recommendation to build higher and buy flood insurance in writing to the landowner.

CAVEAT - If the actual ground elevation is below the 1% annual chance flood elevation, that area is still regulated by your floodplain ordinance.

Community HAS Shoreland Management ordinance (in Minnesota)

If a community has shoreland management regulations, they apply within 1,000 feet of a lake and within 300 feet of a watercourse. The shoreland management regulations specify that in addtion to setbacks, "local shoreland controls must regulate placement of structures in relation to high water elevation" (see MN Rules 6120.3300, subp.3, B).

The lowest floor of the building must meet minimum elevations. If the minimum elevation is known based on floodplain controls, the structure "must be placed at an elevation consistent with the controls." So if the 1% annual chance flood elevation is known, that is used to determine the minimum lowest floor elevation, i.e., the regulatory flood protection elevation (RFPE).

If the 1% annual chance flood elevation has not been determined, the lowest floor must be at leaset three feet above the Ordinary High Water (OHW) or the Highest Known Water Level (HKWL), whichever is highest.

However, the floodplain management regulations do have additional requirements that are not included in the shoreland regulations. For example, floodplain management regulations specify  that fill must extend at least 15-feet in all directions at an elevation no lower than one foot below the RFPE. That requirement is not included in the shoreland management regulations.

sl vs fp elevations