The Floodplain Management Program was begun to manage Virginia's flood hazards. In particular, it aims to prevent loss of life, reduce property damage, and conserve the natural and beneficial values of state rivers and coastal floodplains. The program's five functional elements are the National Flood Insurance Program, hazard mitigation, community education, coordination of flood protection programs, and the Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) - Flood insurance is available to Virginia residential and commercial properties owners predominantly through this program, which is administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in cooperation with DCR's Floodplain Management Program. Insurance policies directly through FEMA or through state-sanctioned independent insurance agencies are available only when the given locality is actively protecting its floodplain resources. The 268 Virginia communities that participate in NFIP have adopted and enforce special floodplain management ordinances covering local riverine and coastal areas prone to flooding. Communities remain eligible for their residents and businesses to purchase flood insurance through enforcement of floodplain ordinance and uniform state building code requirements that ensure safe and proper use of designated floodplain areas.
If a community is not enforcing its floodplain ordinance in compliance with the NFIP, by allowing improper development or construction within the floodplain, it can be placed on probation or suspended from the program. All policyholders in a sanctioned community pay a surcharge fee in addition to their regular annual premiums until the community acts to correct deficiencies and return to good standing with the NFIP. Should the community fail to be reinstated, polices are cancelled, leaving at risk floodplain residents and businesses without flood insurance coverage. DCR staffers work with communities to either help them maintain NFIP compliance or work to become reinstated to the NFIP if suspended.
All participating communities can reduce the cost of policyholder premiums by participating in the Community Rating System (CRS) Program. This program awards points to communities with aggressive flood protection policies beyond minimum NFIP participation requirements. Points are awarded to communities for various activities including restriction of all development within the 100-year floodplain, additional construction setback requirements, conservation easement programs and citizen education programs. Eighteen communities in Virginia now participate in the CRS, accounting for about one policy in four receiving discounted premiums because of the CRS. This amounts to a total statewide savings of about $500,000 for more than 22,000 policyholders. DCR provides leadership, training and technical assistance to communities to encourage CRS participation.
The staff also works with the Virginia Floodplain Management Association to support the NFIP.
Technical assistance and community education - DCR workers routinely visit or contact all Virginia cities, towns and counties to ensure continued understanding of floodplain management programs. DCR staff works with local program administrators to review a community's floodplain management ordinance, zoning and comprehensive planning process, building code enforcement system and emergency preparedness system for localized flooding. Through these visits and other contact, DCR staff serves as a liaison between Virginia communities and FEMA to help local officials continue proper implementation of floodplain ordinances.
DCR staff also provides technical assistance through review of floodplain ordinances, local flood studies and other technical engineering documents involving potential development in the regulated floodplain. Workshops or one-on-one training is available to communities on various floodplain topics such as the NFIP, hazard mitigation, CRS and floodplain building code enforcement. Staff members also help communities re-map floodplains, develop hazard mitigation plans and programs, and remove at-risk structures in the floodplain through several state and federal grant programs.
Community education - DCR undertakes many floodplain educational efforts. Since the NFIP's goal is to minimize potential flood damages, DCR responds to individuals asking for help and wishing to learn about floodplain regulations and flood insurance. Flood insurance is the main way property and homeowners can minimize economic impacts of flooding. DCR continues to educate Virginia's insurance industry as well on its responsibilities to provide flood insurance policies. Other assistance is provided to citizens, engineers, consultants, developers, realtors and insurance agents with questions on flood insurance rate maps, flood-proofing techniques, construction methods and interpreting ordinances. As well, special training seminars are provided to professional groups.
Hazard mitigation programs - Flooding is the greatest threat of all natural hazards in Virginia, accounting for more than 90 percent of Virginia's declared disasters. Damage from flooding since the 1950s indicates that Virginia experiences more than $400 million in damages each decade.
Flood hazard mitigation is the primary goal of the program, but unfortunately, disasters occur. With five recently declared disasters - summer 1995, fall 1996, winter 1996 fall 1999, and summer 2001 - program staffers have been busy providing technical and administrative assistance to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). DCR staff members have also worked with the Department of Emergency Services to administer the FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, which provides an annual source of flood mitigation funding. Staffers also provide technical support by helping select and administer Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects.
Beyond emergency response, DCR also seeks to increase involvement by other state agencies in hazard mitigation and floodplain awareness. For example, DCR serves on the Virginia Interagency Hazard Mitigation Committee. In addition, staff works with the Department of Transportation (VDOT) to ensure that VDOT policies and procedures related to rivers, stream crossings and floodplains reduce flooding potential. DCR staffers also take part in the Virginia Interagency Environmental Review process, federal and state-sponsored construction project environmental impact statements, and proposed alterations of wetlands or streams and rivers to assure consistency with federal, state and local floodplain management ordinances and policies.
Coordination of flood protection programs - U. S. Army Corps of Engineers projects typically include hydrologic/hydraulic studies, geographic information system digitized mapping and other floodplain management tools. The corps often funds such projects on a 50-50 cost-share basis with localities. FEMA also provides floodplain mapping and re-mapping services. Floodplain management staff assigns priorities and works to coordinate efforts between localities and federal agencies on these issues.
Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund - This fund was established to provide localities a 50 percent match for flood prevention or protection projects, either as a grant or a loan. Such projects can include floodplain studies and mapping, structural protection and buyouts, relocation, and the flood proofing and/or elevation of structures repeatedly damaged by flooding. The fund can be used for any project regardless of sponsor's origin - local, state or federal.