Officials from Brown County, the City of Brownwood and the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 are planning to meet today with a hydrology specialist who may be asked to develop data that could be used to supplement findings from a FEMA consultant regarding flood plain levels.
“I will not make any agreements,” Brown County Judge Ray West told county commissioners in a report during their Monday meeting. “I will come back to you on the matter of price.”
As part of a five-year national program, FEMA is gathering data to establish flood plain levels used to set flood insurance rates, and Halff Associates Inc. of Austin is the engineering firm contracted by the government to do the work in Brown County. Preliminary indications have suggested that data found in previous studies will result in a flood plain level that is higher than local officials feel is justified.
Wes Birdwell, water resource planning director for Halff Associates, has spoken several times about the process to local groups. Most recently, he addressed members of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce at their monthly luncheon on July 18. Birdwell said then because of funding limitations, FEMA is not conducting new studies, but has asked Halff to gather existing data from Brown and several other Texas counties so it can be digitized. From that data, FEMA could identify or update flood plain levels.
West told commissioners Monday that Halff has approached local officials to see if they would retain the firm to prepare data that, in essence, “is going to assail (Birdwell’s) findings.”
“That may be conflicting to pay them $20,000 to attack his own findings,” West said.
West said he has declined that offer, but local officials will instead meet with another hydrologist or a hydrology engineer about developing data that can be used to supplement existing flood pattern information.
“The purpose is to outline the scope of work that could be done for the city and the county and the water district, and the possible cost,” West said.
Local officials have expressed support for the national flood insurance program, but want its requirements to be based on scientifically defendable data so economic development is not unnecessarily limited.
The data being collected by Halff includes information from a Freese and Nichols study from the late 1970s used to modify the Lake Brownwood Dam, another study made from data collected in a 2002 flood plus information from a 1900 flood - 30 years before Lake Brownwood was built.
“Our effort is to put in writing that the study from 1978 or 1979 is not to be relied upon in the setting of the flood plain,” West said. “Our hydrologist would be able to address that.”
The county judge said he believes it would be beneficial for the same engineer to look at data for both the city and the county.
“I think it would be something for which the engineer could assign expense,” West said. “We still have the burden of proof.”
West pointed out that FEMA has agreed to add a step to the process, which usually takes three years.
“The appeals process means we have to do a study, but the premise is flawed,” West said. “There’s not enough time to do a study in the time allowed for appeal. Until last week, FEMA would not accept our critique of Halff’s (findings). They have now agreed that our engineer can put in new data…”
West said the water district’s interest is that its easement for impounding flood water around Lake Brownwood rises to 10 feet above the spillway level, which is 1,425 feet above spillway. If a flood plain above 1,435 is adopted, additional easements may need to be considered.
“I think there’s just insufficient information to base this on,” Commissioner Richard Gist said of flood plain levels proposed than range above 1,440 feet.
“We’re made some progress,” Commissioner Steve Adams said. “There has been another process added, at least, so we can argue their number without having a full-blown study.”