July 29--The Alabama Office of Water Resources has been awarded a $2.7 million grant to improve flood plain data for areas in the Wheeler Lake watershed.
The watershed includes portions of Morgan, Limestone, Lawrence, Lauderdale, Madison and Jackson counties and a few counties in Tennessee.
The grant money comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA says the grant is intended to fund projects that improve existing flood insurance rate maps and flood risk data, which will in turn "strengthen local communities' ability to understand and communicate their flood risk and make informed decisions about flood risk reduction."
Limestone County Engineer Richard Sanders said the grant was born from meetings between FEMA and local governments a few months ago. He said the grant will help make watershed data more accurate.
"FEMA is going to take their elevation data and tie that to our contour data that we gathered with our GIS and show where the flood areas are," Sanders said.
Sanders said some residents live in areas marked as flood-prone but aren't actually in danger of flooding. Some have corrected the information with FEMA on an individual basis.
The new data will make that unnecessary, and could potentially lower insurance rates for homeowners.
"If you live on the Tennessee River, right now your property is shown in a flood area on the maps," Sanders said. "But, for instance, some people might live on a bluff. They aren't affected by floods."
FEMA officials say flood risks can change over time because of natural and man-made factors -- like construction of flood plain widening and shifting -- which is why the data and maps must be periodically updated.
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