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Local News

Community Meeting Outlines New FEMA Flood Maps for Montecito, Carpinteria

An important thing to consider on the new Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery map is the flood water elevations for structures, according to FEMA Region IX representative Eric Simmons. 

The FEMA recovery map was developed to guide planning and development decisions for residents rebuilding homes in Montecito and the unincorporated areas of the Carpinteria Valley in the wake of the Jan. 9 flooding and debris flows.

The recovery map will be in use until the permanent Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for southern Santa Barbara County can be completed in another three to five years. 

“Encouraging elevated development is our main goal,” Simmons said during an informational meeting at Montecito Union School District on Wednesday. “Looking at development in the flood plain — elevation is the salvation for devastation.”

“Elevations are the most important thing on the map,” Simmons continued. “Building higher is safer…from debris flow and flood flow.”

The county has links to the FEMA recovery map here.

The recovery map does not replace the current effective FIRM, but the advisory flood elevation from the recovery map are based on new data and engineering, and obtained from post-debris flow and post-fire ground conditions, Simmons said.

The recovery map should be used to guide rebuilding efforts along with FIRM information and county guidance, according to county officials. 

On the recovery map, advisory flood elevations in many cases are higher than the current effective FIRM for southern Santa Barbara County.

FEMA advises homeowners to use whichever base flood elevation is higher when making decisions about rebuilding until the new FIRM is released. 

The map also includes flood hazard areas after the Jan. 9 debris flow.

Simmons said some Jan. 9 damaged structures are not within the hazard area due to the change in topography.

“If we need to fix something, FEMA will,” Simmons said of the recovery map. 

The recovery map does not affect ratings for flood insurance rates, said FEMA flood insurance specialist Edith Lohmann.

The FEMA recovery map also is not intended to replicate the Jan. 9 debris flow, Simmons said.

The FEMA recovery map is based on clear-water flow, with water flow rates increased to reflect post-burn watershed conditions. The map utilizes the best available data to complete the project in a short time so that rebuilding could start, Simmons said.

The new map is not a debris-flow map, Simmons told more than 30 residents gathered in the school auditorium.

“It’s a water situation,” he said, adding that the FEMA recovery map is developed with federal, state and local partners. 

The county has a debris flow risk map on its website here.

There is a risk that flooding and debris flow will occur during the next rainy season because of the small amount of watershed recovery and regrowth on the mountain slopes, Simmons told the crowd.

In June, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the map, which shows the 100-year flood risk after the Jan. 9 debris flow moved creek channels and clogged bridges in some areas, as well as changed the topography.

Wednesday’s meeting was sponsored by the Montecito Association, and marked the second community gathering with FEMA officials on hand to discuss the map and insurance questions. A similar meeting was held at the County Administration Building in June.

The meeting is posted on the county's YouTube channel and the county's Facebook page.

County officials urge property owners with damaged structures to contact their assigned case manager from Planning and Development for assistance with mapping and the permitting process. 

To find your case manager, call 805.568.2090, email [email protected] or visit the county Planning and Development at 123 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara 93101.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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