The counties and cities in the Texas Colorado River basin have begun working with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to design an innovative approach to coordinated floodplain management. The LCRA sponsored a Floodplain Summit to initiate a cooperative approach to floodplain management and to enlist the participation of all of the local communities and counties in the basin. Summit I was held in September 1999 and was attended by more than 100 community officials. Discussions at the summit centered on the need to improve flood protection in the basin by managing floodplain development more consistently. In order to have a consistent approach, several ingredients were identified which are currently lacking in the basin. These include, but are not limited to, consistent or uniform local ordinances, updated flood boundary maps, and cooperation among local, state, and federal flood management programs.
The reasons behind the program inconsistencies in the basin are many and varied. Local ordinances differ in scope and detail. Some cities, under pressure from rapid floodplain development and/or recent flooding, have passed stringent floodplain development ordinances. Other cities impose little or no restrictions on development within the floodplain. Counties have limited authority to enforce higher standards than the minimum necessary to qualify under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These limitations may prevent counties from effectively addressing local flood problems and prevents county residents from qualifying for lower insurance rates. In addition, existing funding and resources may not currently support an effective county floodplain program. Unfortunately, many communities have used their limited resources to adopt floodplain ordinances without regard to neighboring communities or downstream effects on the floodplain.
Compounding the problem, many of the existing floodplain maps for communities in the basin are old and outdated. Floodplain information may be missing or lacking in sufficient detail. Corporate boundaries, roads and bridges, and local benchmarks may be missing or inaccurate. Most communities rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide updated Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs); however, a backlog of outdated maps and limited federal resources has shifted this responsibility back to the local communities. Complications from overlapping jurisdictions, the advanced technological and engineering expertise required, and the high costs associated with producing new maps make updating the FIRMs a difficult if not impossible task for many local communities.
In addition to standardized ordinances and current maps, another ingredient required for consistent floodplain management is cooperation. Cooperation between communities is necessary not only to establish consistent ordinances and update maps, but also to act as one voice when seeking assistance from federal and state funding partners. Participants in Summit I agreed that the key to successfully addressing the floodplain management issues in the basin was cooperation through the sharing of information and expertise through some type of regional affiliation or entity. The participants appointed a Steering Committee to continue the process and investigate possibilities, with LCRA staff assisting the committee by providing technical and logistical resources. The committee was charged with defining a regional approach that could address the key ingredients and move toward cooperative floodplain management in the basin.