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Federal Emergency Management Agency Close to Releasing New Flood Hazard Maps

Maps are intended to help Montecito residents and officials make decisions about the rebuilding process, and reduce vulnerability for future disasters

Forester Len Nielson from CalFire Click to view larger
Forester Len Nielson from CalFire speaks on Tuesday evening during a Thomas Fire and Jan. 9 debris flow recovery and rebuilding community meeting in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

In the wake of the Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flows, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new flood hazard maps are expected to be released in May, a FEMA representative announced Tuesday.

Santa Barbara County officials and partner agencies, in conjunction with other resources, showed their findings during a community meeting in Santa Barbara to plan for potential future rain events that may be dangerous due to the post-fire conditions of local watersheds.

“We will be providing the draft data set to the county this month, and in June that data will be widely available,” FEMA Region IX representative Eric Simmons said. “Recovery maps are hazard maps.”

FEMA is preparing recovery maps outlining new evaluation information after the Thomas Fire in December and Montecito debris flow in January to help residents and officials make decisions about the rebuilding process in the affected areas, and reduce vulnerability for future disasters.

The analysis provides a basis for future mapping and modeling to update the Flood Insurance Rate Map, or FIRM, for the county.

Recovery maps do not replace the current effective FIRM, Simmon said. 

In many cases, Simmon said, the recovery maps evaluation reflects a higher elevation than the current FIRM. 

The data and modeling also will provide a basis for future mapping that may be used to update the FIRM for the county.

Grids from the recovery maps detailing water depth and evaluations will be available digitally to allow emergency officials to use technological advances to view flood risks in their community, Simmon explained.

Water surface elevation grids on the updated recovery maps aid those responsible for permitting and floodplain management.

“The mapping is going to show a high hazard area,” Simmons said. “That is going to show the water surface evaluation associated with a one percent annual chance of rainfall — considering the post-burn watersheds.”

Kevin Cooper, a scientist with the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team, Click to view larger
Kevin Cooper, a scientist with the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team, speaks on Tuesday evening during a Thomas Fire and Jan. 9 debris flow recovery and rebuilding community meeting. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Thomas Fire in December burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The subsequent deadly Montecito debris flow, which also caused infrastructure damage to the Montecito area, killed 23 people, and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in January.

At the public meeting, liaisons representing the U.S. Forest Service Burn Area Emergency Response Team and the Cal Fire Watershed Emergency Response Team provided information on watershed impacts resulting from the Thomas Fire. 

“We are in a high-risk situation again leading to next fall and rain season,” Kevin Cooper, a scientist with the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team, told more than 60 residents at the meeting. “We have not received the plant growth that we hoped we would.” 

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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