ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s flood maps, used to determine flood-prone areas, are on average more than 20 years old, and it will be at least another eight years before the entire state has “new” maps, which may not be new at all.
New maps would require studies of all counties in Maryland that would accurately show all flood-prone areas. The new maps would be “live studies,” where changes could be made online and new studies would not have to be done. Although the technology to do a complete remapping is available now, time and money may be an obstacle in the remapping plan.
Rather than paying for new studies that would produce new information, funds may only allow for the existing maps, with outdated information, to be digitized, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“Some of the money is not sufficient and will just pay for digitizing the existing data,” said John Joyce, certified flood plain manager with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has prioritized Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City for remapping based on several criteria, including population. Money from insurance premiums and Congress allow for the remapping, and cooperation with the various counties also helps to expedite the process.
New maps, not digitized ones, will also affect flood insurance by including flood areas that weren’t previously shown on the map. Individuals who own property within the new flood areas will be required to purchase flood insurance. Similarly, people who are no longer within flood zones will not be required to carry flood insurance.
The Maryland Department of the Environment said new maps should be based on new studies and new information, not old maps that are digitized to read on a computer instead of on paper.
Frederick and Montgomery counties may have new maps, not just digitized ones, as early as next year.
Maps for Anne Arundel and Howard counties could be finished by 2005 and Baltimore and Prince George’s counties by 2006. Ideally, FEMA hopes to have money for all counties budgeted by 2009 and new maps completed by 2111. Without secured money, however, the new maps could just be digitized versions, according to the state.
“The problem with digitizing is that it’s still the same old data and it cannot be changed . . . it’s not a very useful methodology in our opinion,” said Joyce. “That’s the vision we have, whether or not it would fly, we’re not sure,” said Joyce.
Several other counties are high on the priority list because their county officials have paid to have data collected that makes the mapping process easier. Wicomico and Prince George’s counties have completed light imaging technology and Baltimore County also has data available to help FEMA with its mapping.
“We did get good news that the state had some money. . . . They were looking for participation and asked us to contribute,” said John Redden, deputy director of Wicomico County.
Wicomico maps were made in 1984, with the exception of a small area dated 1992. Since the maps were made, two areas of the county experienced flooding although they are not shown to be inside of a flood zone on the map, said Redden.
FEMA does not have any money budgeted for Washington County, which has the third-highest number of repetitive losses, a total of 36. The county has been developed since its last mapping, which has led to more water runoff and more flash flooding, according to their county planner.
“The problem I’m running into is not necessarily the age of the maps, but urbanization,” said Bill Sprague, Washington County planner. “New maps would help.”
New mapping would show the proper flow of water through the channels. The more housing developments that are built, the less room there is for water to soak into the ground, said Sprague.
“There’s more water because of the subdivisions,” said Sprague. “You are artificially changing the shape of time versus rate of water runoff.”
Worcester, including Ocean City, is also very high on FEMA’s list, but they do not have a completion date.
“More effort needs to be done to make new maps and better studies,” said Joyce. “If you take the existing data, you will just have the same things happen over and over again.”