Southern Indiana had rain twice in 2015: entire month of May and all of June

Last month, the Indiana Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management (INAFSM) held their annual conference in Angola, Indiana.  As you can imagine, a topic of discussion was the heavy rains that the State of Indiana experienced. People agreed that we had two rains this year, one that lasted all of May and another that lasted all of June…

Ohio River Bridge

Work is still proceeding rapidly on the new I-65 bridge in the Louisville area, even with the heavy rains from earlier this year.

With the heavy rains came the flooding, along with a disheartening realization by some property owners that no one will be there to help them with their costly repairs. I have listened to several people say, “No one told me I needed flood insurance”.

Once the damage is done and the flood waters have receded, how does local government respond and help those that did not have flood insurance and/or prepare for a future flood?

Limited options

If you have a qualified event and resulting loss, filing a claim is your next step…if you have flood insurance.  There are not many realistic options for most communities to help those that are not insured.  The primary request is for local government to purchase their home.  In the Louisville area, the Metropolitan Sewer District has allocated approximately $1 million dollars to buy out various property owners…but few communities have this kind of money to allocate towards property buyouts.  Others request reimbursement of physical property that was destroyed, such as tools in a garage or a heat pump next to the house.

Looking towards the future

If multiple structures took damage in an area, then a community should consider at least two things:

  1. Look for solutions that improve drainage for those areas, without creating more problems for someone else in a different place. Perhaps there is a choke-point that can be fixed;
  2. Review the current floodplain maps created for accuracy.

If structures are being damaged and they are not in the ‘100 year floodplain’, then perhaps the floodplain maps need improved.  An article about this occurring in Colorado was sent to me by David McGimpsey: “Study of 2013 Colorado Flood Could Mean Hazard Zones Expand, Bringing Higher Costs For Some“.

This type of study is also being considered by some in Southern Indiana.  I will talk about the higher costs in my next post.

The flood finale

A surprising number of people want a solution in their backyard, at the expense of a neighbor.  While I understand that people want immediate flood relief, sometimes a fix takes some time by local government.  Conveying that message to the disappointed public is a huge challenge. Take the extra time to meet with them and keep them in the loop about the plans you have to help the community recover and move forward.

Harmful Algal Bloom Cruising Down the Ohio River

An algal bloom is slowly moving down the Ohio River and a Harmful Algal Bloom Recreational Advisory has been issued.  The Indiana advisory was issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, in coordination with neighboring states, on 9-18-15.  The bloom consists of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.  It has the appearance of blue-green paint or scum in the water and can be toxic.  Due to the toxins, avoid contact with the water (this includes pets)!

The Louisville WFPL website has an excellent article on this issue, with a map of the affected sections of the Ohio River and brief description about why the algal bloom is occurring.

This advisory is a recreational contact advisory only, with finished drinking water reported as being safe.  The Louisville Water Company is taking extra measures to protect the drinking water supply that comes from the Ohio River.

This event is being reported as the worst toxic bloom in the history of the Ohio River.

General Public to the 100-Year Storm: Get Lost!

With the late summer upon us, it is practically a bad dream that we received so much rain earlier this summer and spring.  The Southern Indiana area received several ‘100-year’ rain events in May, along with two storms that were at least a ‘500-year’ rain event level (or greater) in June / July.   At several public meetings, people stated that the term ‘100-year’ storm should be thrown out the window…they were sick of hearing about it and just wanted answers about solving the flood problems!  I can hardly blame them.  I was tired of it too.

Public Meeting about Drainage

The general public demands that the 100-year flood be banished…Begone!

It was not a dream.

Unfortunately, the major storms that repeatedly rolled through this area caused a significant amount of loss to homes and property.    While many of us can go on and forget about what happened, people are still dealing with the aftermath.  I am not sure about the conclusion for many of the people I spoke with earlier this year, but I am sure that several of them had to spend thousands of dollars fixing their homes since they did not have flood insurance.

Meanwhile in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the Louisville area, there were numerous homes that were significantly damaged and not allowed to be reconstructed due to the local floodplain ordinance.  This caused an outcry by the general public, so Louisville has made some exceptions to their policy. The Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) is actually going through the process to buyout some of these properties.  Check out that link for a quick update on the process by the Louisville NPR politics reporter, Ashley Lopez.  Louisville MSD is looking to spend about $1 million dollars…wow.

The flood finale

This post is short.  There has not been much rain lately, which has been great for property owners.  Some of the heavy rains damaged the crops in various areas, but let us hope the farmers purchased crop insurance, just like I hope people who live next to streams and creeks purchased flood insurance.  With the storms that happened, I am sure that many home owners have asked their insurance agent for information about flood insurance.  Not everyone was lucky enough to live in a place that has the funds available to purchase flooded structures.

Enter into an Exciting Conversation with Property Owners Called “Who Owns That Tree”

As I discussed in a previous blog post, there are some aspects of property ownership that are commonly misunderstood.  One of those items definitely involve easements.  Another is something that may be in the easement, known as the mighty Tree.  Let us recap what we have learned about easements and then talk about the tree issue.

Dead Tree

If a tree falls in an urban area, does anyone hear it? The answer is Yes!

What is an easement?

Actually, the large majority of people I speak with have heard the words “easement” and “right of way”.  They tend to understand there is an area, usually in the rear of their lot, where utilities and drains are located.  If those utilities or drains are damaged, then someone will have to go back there and fix them.  The easement gives a utility company or government entity the ‘right to enter’ (this is important to remember) the property to make a repair. The size and location of the easement are on the plat of the property / subdivision.  This is how you know if there is an easement on a property.

Who owns the easement?

This is where things become confusing.  People are eager to tell me the owner of that weedy place behind their house that contains the easement (in order of popularity):

  • The County (the definite winner!);
  • The City (a very popular answer);
  • A utility company, most likely the power company;
  • A neighbor (this can be true, but it is rare because I did my homework before I went out there);
  • No one (I hear this every so often);
  • Me, the property owner and my neighbor (not a popular answer).

Usually, the correct answer is the last one, which tends to leave some people shocked.  A property owner still owns the ground where the easement is located.

Remember, an easement only provides the ‘right to enter‘…it does not imply ownership.

My fence was damaged by a fallen tree

In many neighborhoods, the easements are full of trees, fences, sheds, landscaping, and pools.  But when a tree falls after a storm, it almost always damages a fence. So the question becomes:  Who is going to pay for repairing my fence?  Who owns that tree in the easement?!

Fence over Stream

This chain link fence is in a terrible spot.

And the answer is…

It fully depends on whose property the tree is located.  In this instance, pretend that an easement does not exist.  The tree may be on private property, or perhaps a governmental entity, such as a school or community, owns the property.  The property owner is the responsible party.

Sometimes a governmental entity may have to go onto the private property to remove the tree because it is blocking a drainage ditch.  This is where the easement comes into play.  It gives a crew the right to go onto the private property and perform a necessary function, keeping water flowing so it does not flood properties.  However, the crew does not own the property.

The utility company cut a bunch of limbs in my backyard and left them!

This happens a lot in backyards across the area.  The power company will come through and trim the trees so they are not touching the electric lines.  Seems like a great maintenance idea.  But they usually leave the limbs behind and quickly move on.  This is because they do not own the trees.   They just have the ‘right to enter‘ the easement and keep their stuff properly working.  If you call and ask nicely, they sometimes will come back and pick up the limbs.

The flood finale

No matter how hard you try, there will always be some people who are not happy when the word “easement” is brought up. Unfortunately, this is something that is not well understood, so outreach is critical before working in a backyard.  If there are trees that must be cut down or have fallen during a storm (and possibly damaged something), be prepared to have a conversation about easements, private property, and ownership of a tree.

Do People Purchase Less Flood Insurance Because of Government Disaster Assistance?

Nature appears to be taking a brief break from the rain and it now pouring on some heat.  Since I do not have any ridiculous photos of flooding to post, this seems to be great opportunity to start sharing some resources, white papers, etc. that are out there and are quick / easy to read.

Denver Sun

It was nearly 90 degrees in Denver last week and it barely felt warm. It’s that hot in Southern Indiana and it is miserable outside!

Today’s blog post is a paper (I only have access to the issue brief) that I found on the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) website in their “What’s New” Section.  The paper is titled:

Does Federal Disaster Assistance Reduce the Demand for Insurance Protection? Empirical Evidence.

The premise of the paper is an attempt to start answering a question:  Does the possible availability of federal disaster relief after a natural disaster, such as a flood, cause people to purchase less insurance?  Meaning that some people are under-insured and treat the disaster relief as a substitute for insurance.  Which in turn may imply that the federal government spends more money on each disaster since people are not covered to the proper levels.

While I could not access the full paper (the link at the end would not work for me), I found it to be very interesting concept. Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Enjoy the sun!

Epic Rains Continue. Angry People Say “Someone will be Responsible!”

People are experiencing incredible rain all around the Midwest.  Each week, there are new images of submerged cars, courageous rescues, flooded intersections, and houses with water pouring in the windows.  A picture on Twitter showed a Jacuzzi floating down the road.  I think we have had two 500-year rain events in a month in the Jeffersonville area.  Amazing!

Flooded Park and Road

A regular picture these days.  #Boring

Someone will be responsible!

With these extreme rain events, hundreds of emails and phone calls are ‘flooding’ in from all parts of the community. Most people are asking the same question either in-person or online (mostly Facebook):

  • My car / house / shed / fence was underwater.  Who will pay for my damage?

People ask the question in various ways.  Some demand payment, others threaten lawsuit, a few ask for basic assistance (could we please check out the drains), others ask questions about where to purchase sandbags or cleaning supplies.  Some are furious, while others just want to get back to their normal routine.

However, there is one quote that is gets casually tossed around by the angry folks:

“Someone will be responsible!”

“Someone will pay!”

Who is this “Someone” person?!  I have yet to meet anyone with this name, but they sure do have a lot to answer for…perhaps they are referring to Mother Nature?

Flooded Road

Mother Nature says, “Enjoy!”…

An unpopular answer

If you have a flood insurance policy, then your insurance company will be responsible to help you with your loss. Otherwise, 9 times out of 10, the property owner is responsible for their private loss.  Unless someone can show some type of negligence by a community (perhaps the Drainage Department or Street Department failed to remove some crazy logjam), I think there is little chance that a community will reimburse people for their loss.  However, I am not an attorney.  I could be wrong.

Overall, I think it seems unreasonable for people to assume that anyone can plan to handle that amount of water.  Most communities only have building standards for the 100-year rain event.  Installing a bigger pipe will definitely not solve the problem.

The probability is what?

There are many statistics floating around out there, but there is one that people do not hear enough about.  A house with a 30 year mortgage in the 100-year floodplain has a 26% chance of experiencing a flood and only a 9% chance of a fire.  People usually have insurance for a fire, but very rarely for a flood.

FEMA considers everyone to live in a flood zone, with a low, moderate, or high level of risk. According to, the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program, floods are the #1 natural disaster in the United States.  Approximately 25% of flood insurance claims are made for structures in a low to moderate risk area.

You just don’t understand

Yes, I get it.  Flooding is a real bummer.  During the severe rain event we had last weekend, I lost power twice, once in the evening for three hours and again at 3 a.m. for six hours.  During those times, water was pouring into my basement sump pit and in a window well, so I ran two sump pumps off my battery backup system I have ready in the basement.  I had to go outside and bail water out of the window well several times during the lightning storm before I could get my backup sump pump installed in it.  I stayed up most the night so I could manage the massive amount of water hammering my sump pump system.  I was super tired.

Was it fun?  No.  Was I prepared for an emergency?  Yes.  Would anyone have paid me for any damages that occurred?  No.  I do not have flood insurance.  It is my personal decision not to carry flood insurance for my home.

Battery Backup System

My battery backup system consists of a 1600 watt power inverter, a Schumacher microprocessor controlled automatic battery charger, and two 6V G2 golf cart batteries. It looks cluttered, but it was an emergency!

The flood finale

It has been an epic summer.  I think it rained 5 days straight last week, took a day off, and rained again the following day.  We are easily on track to have the wettest July and summer on record.  While I completely understand and have empathy for everyone that is suffering property damage, I am not sure that the local government entities are responsible for everyone’s loss.  Natural disasters happen, and local government is part of the team that helps rebuild so everyone can get back to their regular daily routine.

A Plain and Simple Floodplain Formula Revisited

With the repeated heavy rains that we are experiencing during this wild summer, there are tons of questions from people on Facebook wanting to know why we (the City) are not stopping the flooding from occurring.  This morning, the news was reporting that the Jeffersonville area was receiving rainfall at an approximate rate of 5 inches per hour.  Recently, on June 26th, we received around 3 inches of rain in 45 minutes. The installed drainage infrastructure is not designed to handle this amount of water.

Flooded Intersection

This intersection is heavily flooded since the creek is only a few hundred feet away on three sides (it loops around the intersection).

Flooded Road

Turn Around, Don’t Drown…it is not worth it!  Yes, there are people in the car trying to drive through.

Since we can easily see some flooding right now, let’s quickly dissect the floodplain and learn some stuff.

100-year floodplain = floodway + flood fringe

There are two parts of a floodplain:

  • The floodway is the part of the stream that is basically in the middle (where the water velocity is the highest).  This is where the channel of the river or stream exists.   The floodway also includes the area just prior to water moving into the flood fringe.  Check out the 23 second video I posted to YouTube that shows the Ohio River floodway (from earlier this spring).  The water is cruising!
  • The flood fringe is the area where the water is slowest, or even just standing (no movement at all). In the picture below, you can see that the water is not moving near the shore.  The water near the shore is in the flood fringe.

    Duffy's Landing Flooding

    The water is barely moving in this area because it is in the flood fringe.

When you combine the floodway and the flood fringe, you get the 100-year floodplain.  The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan has a great illustration of the floodplain on their website.

Everyone lives in a floodplain

Now that you have a better understanding of what the 100-year floodplain means, you should recognize that structures can still take flood damage even if they are out of this magical zone.  Many people do not realize that FEMA considers everyone to live in a floodplain, with a low, moderate, or high risk of flooding.

Flooded Subdivision

This neighborhood is NOT shown as being in the 100-year floodplain, but a creek is next to the tall tree in the middle of the pic.  You can see the water moving more quickly on the left site of the pic…this is the floodway.  See the still water on the right…that is the flood fringe.

Flooded Subdivision

The same neighborhood as shown in the image above. Again, these structures are NOT in the 100-year floodplain! The Fire Department had to evacuate people to safety.

As you can see from the pictures, there were some upset homeowners (which I get). Unfortunately, there is little that the City can do for them, other than provide technical advice about how to flood proof, acquire insurance, and so forth.  Most of them will probably purchase a Preferred Risk Flood Insurance Policy after this extreme rain event (estimated at approximately a 150-year event).  As you can also see in the above picture of the cul-de-sac (with the truck), the water is not moving…it is in the flood fringe.

The flood finale

The floodway is the risky part of the floodplain, where the water moves fast and can destroy structures and injure people (do not be the person that drives through the quickly moving water that is over the road because it is in the floodway)!  The flood fringe has the still or slow-moving water, but can still be dangerous.   Be safe, watch from a distance, and let the water move on through.

As people are seeing from today and the other week, extreme flooding can result in numerous water rescues.  Also, there are many homes and vehicles that were damaged over the weekend.  Think ahead by purchasing a low-cost flood insurance policy and making emergency plans with your family…these types of rain events will most likely continue to occur.

If you experienced the heavy rains this weekend, let me know how you did in the comments section.