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New FEMA Flood Maps Show Growing Risk In Central Texas

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Deadly flooding hit Central Texas over Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Heavy rain caused the Blanco River to rise, damaging or destroying more than 2,000 homes in Wimberley.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened up a public comment period for new floodplain maps for Caldwell, Guadalupe, Gonzales and Hays counties, showing a significant increase in flood risk, especially in places that recently experienced devastating floods.   

“Of course we see weather trends are changing, but a lot of that [increased risk] is driven by the amount of development in an area,” said Diane Howe, a FEMA floodplain manager who has been working on these maps for years.

The maps are created to enhance public safety, but will also impact development in the region.

Flood insurance costs more in flood-prone areas and is required for people who want to get a federally backed mortgage to buy in those places.

Where people are in the floodplain also dictates how they can build. In areas with a higher risk of flooding, new construction must be built to higher elevation.

After the devastating floods along the Blanco River in 2015, San Marcos passed new building laws to ensure development doesn’t worsen flooding.

Developers that want to build in a flood zone "have to show that they are going to not increase the flooding to an adjoining property,” Richard Reynosa, the floodplain manager for San Marcos, said.

Property owners and developers sometimes fight floodplain designations because they don’t like the rules and higher costs that come with building. But Tom Pope, the floodplain manager for Hays County, said he’s seeing less of that with these new maps, especially in places recently devastated by flooding.

“Surprisingly enough, a lot of people in Wimberley haven’t complained as much as I expected them to complain because they’ve seen a big huge flood now,” he said.

Howe said people who buy flood insurance before the new maps are finalized may be able to get it at a lower, "grandfathered" rate. But, no matter where you live, it’s worth checking out your local maps and considering flood insurance.

"It can rain anywhere, it can flood anywhere," she said, "and we’ve experienced that in Texas that, just because you don’t live in a special flood area does not mean your house is not going to flood.”

The public comment period for these new maps will last about three months. During that time, people can submit corrections to the maps or appeal FEMA’s findings with their local floodplain administrator. The maps are expected to be finalized by April 2019.

You can find online versions of the new maps and resources offered by FEMA by clicking the links below. 

Contact a FEMA map specialist by telephone at 1-877-336-2627 or by email at You can also use a live chat service here

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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