In what could be a precursor to increased flood-insurance rates, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will soon be remapping the flood risks encountered all along the coast of Santa Barbara County. FEMA officials will be in town next Thursday to meet with Santa Barbara city and county officials to kick off what will be a two-year, multimillion-dollar process. FEMA is currently undertaking similar exercises along both coasts and the Great Lakes. The last such mapping was done in the 1980s; since then, the data collection and analytic methodology has evolved considerably.
FEMA officials — working in conjunction with scientists with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — will analyze 50 years of coastal buoy readings to determine the maximum height and depth of waves at key measuring points up and down the coast. That data will be distilled to determine the size of the proverbial 100-year waves. They, in turn, will be examined in conjunction with the coastline they encounter — steep cliffs or long shallow beaches that feed into meandering marshy lagoons. That, in turn, will yield new more detailed risk assessments.
While some officials are already bracing for higher flood insurance fees — and the political backlash they engender — Ed Curtis, regional engineer in FEMA Region IX, said it’s too soon to say. “At this point, I can’t say whether the risks will decrease or increase,” he said. “I can say we’ll have a much more detailed picture than we have now.” In addition, Curtis said FEMA would look at levees, breakwaters, and other flood control infrastructure erected by federal or local governments to reassess what level of flood protection they actually provide. While the kickoff begins next week, the public will not be invited to participate in the process until a first draft of the new analysis is complete. In the meantime, people curious about the undertaking — or concerned about their insurance rates — can follow along at the FEMA Web site www.R9Coastal.org.