County OKs flood, watershed rules

   The County of San Diego approved amendments to the county codes that address flood damage prevention and watershed protection.

   The changes, approved by the San Diego county Board of Supervisors on Aug. 5, will take effect Sept. 4.

   “It’s a very positive thing,” said Cid Tesoro, program manager for the county’s Watershed Protection Program. “It will help us obtain more points to get more reductions in the flood insurance rates.”

   The county participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

To qualify for flood insurance, residents must meet minimum standards.  FEMA’s Community Rating System provides credits to communities for tasks and activities above and beyond minimum standards.

The amendments include development criteria for new construction or for substantial improvement of structures within the boundaries of a Special Flood Hazard Area. Additionally, the definition of “rainy season” in the county’s Watershed Protection Ordinance was modified to run from Oct. 1 to April 30 rather than from Nov. 11 to April 30.

   The new county requirements include a freeboard margin of protection above the base flood elevation for properties within Special Flood Hazard Area boundaries. The lowest floor, including basement mechanical and utility equipment and ductwork but not garages used solely for vehicle storage access or secure storage, shall be at least 1 foot above the base flood elevation.

   According to the county, the freeboard margin will protect such structures against higher flood levels due to future development in the floodplain, uncertainties in expected flood calculation methods or lack of data, and debris that accompanies the base flood or other natural disasters as well as floods higher than the base flood.

   Flood insurance includes Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, which helps pay to bring a substantially damaged building into compliance with the county’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance.  The ICC coverage pays up to $30,000 of the cost to elevate, floodproof, demolish, or relocate a building which has been substantially or repetitively damaged.

   An ICC claim can be filed even if a community has not received a presidential disaster declaration, and the county added a definition of “substantial damage,” which will be deemed to have occurred if the cost to restore a structure to its pre-damage condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the structure’s market value before the damage occurred or if a structure sustains flood-related damage on two separate occasions during a 10-year period and the cost of each event equals or exceeds 25 percent of the structure’s pre-damage market value.

   While the Watershed Protection Ordinance had used Nov. 11 as the legal start of the rainy season, the Municipal Stormwater Permit process had utilized the Oct. 1 beginning date and the amendment to the definition provides consistency.

   “It helps out with our Community Rating System efforts,” Tesoro said.

   Although the higher standards may increase construction costs, those additional costs will be mitigated by lower insurance premiums, he said.  

   “By participating in the program to date, the county has helped reduce the flood insurance rate in the area by 10 percent,” Tesoro said.

   
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