Environment

Janet Markland lives across the street from the Muddy Fork of Beargrass Creek, in Riverwood. In the last 20 years, the creek has never once flooded her home, but she still has had to pay for flood insurance.

She said the $300 per month in flood insurance was an added incentive to pay-off her mortgage. But even after paying off the house, Markland still wants her property removed from the flood hazard maps.

“Now if we turn around to sell the house, that’s when we would face a problem, because the new buyer, unless they were paying cash for the house, would be required to have flood insurance,” Markland said.

For the first time since 2006, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is updating its Flood Hazard Maps in Louisville. The maps reflect the portion of the floodplain where there is a one percent chance of flooding annually.

The changes affect around 2,500 properties around Louisville:

Many of the changes are in the area around Mill Creek in southwest Louisville, but it also affects a number of streams in the east parts of the county that flow into Floyds Fork, and Chenoweth Run near Jeffersontown, said Lori Rafferty, floodplain administration with the Metropolitan Sewer District.

“A big change was, the state made it a goal that all streams that had a square mile of drainage area be mapped, and so that meant that some of our streams hadn’t ever been mapped before,” Rafferty said.

Changes to the maps will go into effect around the end of the year, and anyone who lives inside the 100-year floodplain with a federally-backed mortgage will have to pay for flood insurance.

Louisville as a whole saves about $2 million annually on flood insurance through a federal community rating system that discounts rates because the city meets certain goals, but the average annual flood insurance premium remained around $1,000 in 2016, Rafferty said.

Despite the cost, Rafferty said insurance is still the most reliable way to bounce back from flood damage.

“Flooding even a few inches can cause a lot of damage and a lot of heartache, and having that flood insurance is definitely the easiest, fastest way to recover,” she said.

John Richardson is one of the homeowners who will likely have to pay for flood insurance when the new maps take effect. And it’s all because he recently moved into a home in Fern Creek with a babbling brook that cuts through the front yard.

Two things went through Richardson’s mind when he bought the place:

“It looks very quaint, and my grandfather always said, ‘don’t buy a house at the bottom of a hill,’ which we did,” Richardson said with a laugh.

The new maps put about a third of his house inside the 100-year-flood plain. An insurance agent recently quoted Richardson about $480 for flood insurance for the first year, though it could increase in the second year.

Richardson said he’s all right with paying that amount, but would like to see MSD do more to keep the creek clear of brush and debris. Development is another factor Richardson thinks contributes to the increased flood risk, he said.

“I’m confident the development on Bardstown Road is not what it is today when this neighborhood was built. And there’s more runoff,” he said.

Rafferty, with MSD, said development was one of the major considerations taken into account while updating the flood maps. The more concrete and asphalt that gets laid down, the more runoff there is, so the new maps reflect recent and even some future development.

Future climate change data, on the other hand, wasn’t considered, even though localized flooding is predicted to increase over the next few decades.

All of these flood maps are based on the assumption that Louisville’s flood protection system works perfectly… which it hasn’t always.

Back over in Riverwood, Janet Markland is happy to hear her home is one of about 1,400 properties that were removed from the 100-year floodplain in the map update. That’s because she and her husband do eventually plan to sell the place.

“We always felt that at whatever point we decided to sell that, that could be a negative factor on our ability to attract interest and a price that could be acceptable,” she said. “So we feel better. We feel like it’s evened the playing field for us a little bit.”

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.