MORGANTOWN — A flood is the kind of thing you don’t typically spend a lot of time thinking about until you’re standing in knee-deep water in your rumpus room.
As the phrase “100-year flood” would indicate, these events are not common, but when they do occur the devastation is catastrophic, as West Virginians saw first-hand in 1985 and 2016, and as people in Nebraska and Southern Africa can currently attest.
In an attempt to lessen the impact of these natural disasters, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is continually collecting data and updating its flood maps in order to identify the areas most likely to be impacted by rising water.
Both Monongalia County and the City of Morgantown are in the process of updating their floodplain ordinances in response to FEMA’s most recent work in the Upper Monongahela Watershed.
The state of West Virginia mandates anyone with a mortgage located in a floodplain carry flood insurance, meaning changes to the identified flood zones will eliminate the need for some to carry the coverage, while suddenly making it a necessity for others.
Mike Paugh, Monongalia County’s floodplain administrator and GIS coordinator, said now is the time to find out if you fall into one of those two categories — particularly if you are located anywhere near flowing water.
“I would recommend people get a hold of Damien [Davis] if you’re in the city, or me if you’re outside the city,” Paugh said. “There are tons of tiny tributaries in Monongalia County that feed into the major streams, but I would say if you live near any stream that actually holds water year-round, to contact us — my office or Damien if you’re in the city.”
In his recent remarks to city council, Davis, Morgantown’s city engineer, said FEMA’s latest studies replaced estimated flood elevation numbers from the 1970s with definitive data for every floodplain in Morgantown, including Deckers Creek, Pompanoe Run, Burroughs Run and Aarons Creek.
“With that there are significant changes that could help a lot of people in the city out who are currently required to buy insurance for their houses, because they will be removed from the floodplain,” Davis said. “There are also some properties that weren’t in [the floodplain] and now will be, but the vast majority are removals from the flood plain.”
According to the West Virginia Insurance Commission, preferred risk flood insurance policies start around $129 per year. The average standard flood insurance policy costs around $600 a year for an average of $100,000 of coverage.
For those looking to build, floodplain considerations are part of Morgantown’s building permitting process. In Monongalia County, building in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain, or flood way — the course of flowing water in a 100-year flood — requires a $20 permit from Paugh’s office and may impact what can be constructed or whether the land can be manipulated.
“A lot of people out there don’t know we have a floodplain ordinance and permitting process in place,” Paugh said. “These new maps will be effective April 5, so if you’re doing any kind of development anywhere near a trickling stream or body of water, please contact our office.”
Paugh’s office is in Room 110, on the first floor of the Monongalia County Courthouse. The phone number is 304-413-0291. Davis can be reached at his office in Morgantown City Hall at 304-284-7412.
Residents can also access a West Virginia Flood Tool online at mapwv.gov/flood/map/