Know Your Flood Hazard

Floodplains provide a wide range of benefits to human and natural systems. They serve as flood storage and conveyance and reduce flood velocities and flood peaks. Water quality is improved through the soil and vegetation’s ability to filter out nutrients and impurities from runoff and process organic wastes. Floodplains and wetlands provide breeding and feeding grounds for fish and wildlife, create and enhance waterfowl habitat, and protect habitats for rare and endangered species. They provide open space, aesthetic pleasure, and areas for active uses such as parks, playgrounds, and ball fields. Most of the floodplain in West University Place is located adjacent to the City of Southside near Poor Farm Ditch, and the flood zones are contained within the Buffalo Bayou watershed and the Brays Bayou watershed.

The Harris County Flood Warning System includes rain gauges placed in different areas of the county. The gauge closest to the City of West University Place is at Brays Bayou at South Main Street. Rain levels at different intervals ranging from the past 15 minutes to one year can be viewed at the Harris County Flood Warning System website.

Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to identify different levels of flood risks. The FIRMs are primarily used for flood insurance purposes, but they also provide a basis for West University Place to regulate development within those areas. The location of a property relative to certain flood zones indicates what restrictions may be placed on new and substantially improved construction. FEMA’s Flood Insurance and Flood Maps explains the different flood zones and how they relate to risk.

FIRMs are available for viewing at the Building Department located at 3826 Amherst Street in the Public Works building. The maps are used by the City for compliance purposes and are also used by insurance agents for flood insurance rating. The current effective FIRMs for West University Place are dated June 18, 2007. The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) has the Harris County FIRM layers in their GIS, and the public can access them online at the Harris County Flood Education Mapping Tool website. Users can type in their address on the upper left side of the screen, and the digital maps will show its location, the flood zones in and around the property, and the watersheds the property is in or near. On the right side of the screen, users can choose a road-based map or an aerial map that shows buildings. The HCFCD maps are not meant to replace the FEMA FIRMs but are available to citizens to view a more enhanced version of them.

For homes that were built before the date of the effectiveFIRM (June 18, 2007), it may be helpful for citizens to have access to all the historical maps to know what flood zone was in effect at the time of construction. Knowing this information can be critical if there is a dispute with a mortgage lender or insurance agent. FEMA’s Map Service Center is a good resource for both current and historical maps. More information on FIRMs is available in the FEMA document entitled Understanding the Changes to Your Community’s Flood Insurance Rate Map.