City and county officials discussed Friday the urgency and importance for the county’s flood plain to be set at 1,435-foot elevation — plus or minus a few tenths of a foot — when FEMA produces its next series of flood plain maps for the area.
There is major concern that the FEMA maps will establish a flood plain at 1,438 feet above sea level, which is 3 feet higher than the current Lake Brownwood easement level and almost 5 feet higher than flood waters have risen since Lake Brownwood was completed in 1929.
And, the rush is on to have data from the geological studies of the area certified by the National Geodetic Survey as soon as possible. Brown County Judge Ray West told the group gathered Friday in the conference room of Brownwood City Hall that once a flood plain level is certified by the NGS, it must be accepted by FEMA.
According to survey data and historical data, the Lake Brownwood spillway — “a concrete structure” — stands to 1,425 above sea level, and the flood level is generally accepted to be 10 feet above the spillway, at 1,435. That was the easement level agreed upon at the time Lake Brownwood was built, and in the 77 years since the lake was filled, no flood has gone higher than 1,435.
“Those engineers knew what they were doing in 1929, and the numbers they came up with years ago have worked all this time,” said Dennis Spinks, general manager for the Brown County Water Improvement District. “There’s no reason to think it won’t hold 77 or more years into the future.”
Last year, city, county and water district officials learned that FEMA was in the process of drawing up new maps, and Brown County, like many areas throughout the nation would have a higher “flood elevation level” determined by what was considered “best available data.” An official study did not exist, only some reports from a firm of consulting engineers. In the spring, the local government entities hired Morrison Hydrology Engineering Inc. of Hillsboro to perform a study to override and correctly state the “best available data” before the FEMA maps were drawn.
Morrison’s hydrology study showed the flood level to be just under the 1,435. Now, Don King, county surveyor for Brown County, is performing additional measures, taking photographs and “by the book” surveys. That data will be turned in to the NGS.
“Right now, we’re checking and double checking, looking at it all,” King said after the meeting. “The last thing we want to do is send it, find something wrong and go back and say, ‘No here’s what we meant.’”
But King said, his understanding is that within 24 to 48 hours of sending the data into NGS, there will be a preliminary certification, and the final certification would follow very soon.
If the certification does not come within the time frame FEMA will accept — and no one knows what that time frame is — several at the meeting said the 3-feet-higher flood plain level that they understand FEMA intends to go with will be a catastrophically financial and geographical problem for the county.
“The impact of what could happen has us all worried,” West said.
Spinks said not only will the residents and businesses around Lake Brownwood by affected by changing the flood level 3 or more feet around the lake, so will those with residences and businesses in Brownwood.
“People who have never been flooded and may never be flooded will need to have flood insurance,” said West, “and if for any reason — fire, tornado, whatever — 50 percent of there property is damaged, cumulatively, they won’t be able to build back at that location.”
West conducted the meeting, attended by the four Brown County Commissioners, Steve Adams, Joel Kelton, Richard Gist and Larry Traweek; Brownwood Mayor Bert Massey; Brownwood City Manager Bobby Rountree; Early City Administrator Ken Thomas; Spinks; King; Don Hatcher, Brownwood city engineer; and several other officials, along with numerous county residents.
Garey Gilley, the director of the Texas Height Modernization Center for Conrad Blucher Institute of Corpus Christi, who has served as a liaison with the local government and federal officials, was also in attendance, as was a representative from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office.
On Tuesday, commissioners will hold a called meeting to sign a resolution calling for the flood plain level to be established at the 1,435 mark and requesting FEMA accept the recent hydrology study as “best available data,” and consider the information the NGS will be asked to certify.