Many in Sacramento County will save on flood insurance for several years

It may be called Dry Creek, but when it floods, “it’s a monster” that carries 14,000 cubic feet of water per second, said Sacramento Countycivil engineer George Booth.

A Rio Linda neighborhood tucked between two branches of Dry Creek suffered flood damage four times in 12 years during the 1980s and 1990s.

“When we get a lot of rain,” said homeowner Diana Ceccardi, “I do a lot of praying.”

Homeowners in the Dry Creek floodplain are required to have flood insurance that can cost more than $1,000 a year, and federal changes are expected to push rates even higher.

But 11,500 property owners in unincorporated Sacramento County will see some relief prior to that from a 35 percent discount on policies starting May 1. The reduction comes after the county’s Department of Water Resources elevated or removed about 100 homes in flood-prone areas such as Rio Linda, and developed plans to limit flood risks and educated the public. Those actions improved Sacramento County’s score in the Community Rating System, a Federal Emergency Management Agency program.

By limiting flood risks, the FEMA program helps reduce flood damages paid by insurers, and savings are passed on to consumers. Only four other communities in the nation have such ratings as good as or better than Sacramento County, said Nancy Ward, head of the FEMA regional office that includes California. That list also includes Roseville, which has the highest rating in the nation. Tulsa, Okla., and Pierce and King counties in Washington state also top a list of more than 1,200 communities.

“This is truly very significant,” Ward said.

The savings will help offset expected increases. Because of a law passed by Congress last year, FEMA is ending subsidies in the National Flood Insurance Program, meaning policyholders will have to pay for the full risk associated with their homes.

While details are still being worked out, policyholders can expect increases for the next four to five years, said Gregor Blackburn of FEMA’s regional office in Oakland.

Based on current rates, the average policyholder will save $101 a year under the improved county rating, even though those savings could disappear as the expected FEMA increases are phased in. For policyholders in floodplains, where such insurance costs more, the average savings will be $336 a year.

While Sacramento County has earned high marks for mitigating risk, it is still considered to have flood risks as high as any place in the nation, comparable even to New Orleans.

The American and Sacramento rivers create hazards around the city and in the northwestern and southwestern corners of the county.

Many of the county’s risk-reduction efforts have focused on the Dry Creek floodway in Rio Linda. Using federal grants and a 25 percent match mostly paid by homeowners, the county has bought and removed more than 20 homes in the area.

Most of the 75 home elevations done by the county also took place around Dry Creek. The elevations require a contribution from homeowners, who have paid as much as $25,000 for the work.

Home elevations reduce flood risks, but don’t eliminate them. Just ask Al Akins. His house on Cherry Lane was already elevated when he bought it 40 years ago, and it has flooded two times, including during a 1986 storm that destroyed pretty much everything in the house.

Akins won’t consider moving, he said, because he can’t afford a similar-sized property anywhere near Sacramento.

Down the block, Jessica Dorrell said she has no plans to move out of her home, either. She grew up there and her parents gave her the home she now shares with her husband and three children.

She remains dedicated to the neighborhood even through her house has flooded three times. A flood in 1996 forced her and her husband to gut the home. A flood late last year killed several newborn puppies.

“This is where I grew up, and this is where I want to raise my children,” Dorrell said.

Her property is in an area that the county has designated for acquisition. Once a property is purchased under the FEMA program, it becomes part of the county park system – in this case, the Dry Creek Parkway.

Ceccardi has lived for a decade in one of the few houses that’s not elevated on a stretch of U Street. She said she can’t afford to have her home raised.

The elevations and removals under the FEMA program are voluntary, said Booth, a county civil engineer with the Department of Water Resources.

Properties are eligible for the grants only when they have had past flood damage. A cost-benefit study is conducted, and any work must cost less than expected future damage, Booth said.

Only one other community participates in the Community Rating System in Sacramento County.

The city of Sacramento has a rating two levels worse than the unincorporated county, which means city residentsget a 25 percent reduction on flood insurance.

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