Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a $1,688,955 grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) for a pilot project to create a framework for their Watershed Planning Initiative. The project is funded in part by the federal government through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and in part from the state of Florida. The FDEM Bureau of Mitigation prioritizes flood risk management as an integral part of its mission.
The goals of this project are to help communities guide future mitigation projects as well as to assist local communities in moving up in the Community Rating System (CRS) of the National Flood Insurance Program. When communities go beyond the minimum standards for floodplain management, the CRS can provide discounts up to 45 percent off flood insurance premiums. Communities apply for a CRS classification and receive credit points that reflect the impact of their activities on reducing flood losses, insurance rating, and promoting the awareness of flood insurance.
“We are working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management on this pilot project to determine where the gaps in watershed data are for watersheds across the state,” said Frederick Bloetscher, Ph.D., principal investigator, associate dean for undergraduate studies and community outreach, and a professor in FAU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering. “For the project, we will be looking into plans that currently exist and creating a catalog of these plans as well as a best practices document for developing watershed management plans.”
A watershed, also called a drainage basin or catchment area, is the geographic area where the water for a river or lake originates. All lands in a watershed drain downhill toward a stream, lake, bay, or other body of water. As a watershed receives rainfall, water starts to flow on the surface. When water enters the watershed too quickly for the land to absorb it, flooding can occur. Floods in Florida can result from severe thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes and other precipitation events.
FAU researchers also will create a screening tool to identify the areas across the state that are the most susceptible to flooding. The screening tool will highlight areas that are “vulnerable,” “potentially vulnerable,” or “less vulnerable” using the definitions of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. They will take the screening tool and create a guidance document for others to implement the tool and will create data for others to use in developing their plans.
Pertinent information in the catalog and technical data will provide an effective framework and strategy for the purpose of creating or updating watershed management planning. Information will include groundwater table elevations and surface water gauges, tidal information for coastal areas, soil maps, topographic data via LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and a design rainfall event to be determined by FDEM. The team also will develop an effective local engagement strategy for the purpose of statewide program implementation.
“We are excited to be working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management on this very important initiative to develop watershed master plans for the entire state of Florida,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean of FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. “The ultimate goal of this project is to enable the state to integrate floodplain management and local mitigation strategies throughout Florida to help communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.”
In 2017, Florida had 1.7 million flood insurance policies included in the Presidential Emergency Declaration. This is roughly 35 percent of all National Flood Insurance Program policies across the country and serves as an indicator of the impact of Hurricane Irma on the National Flood Insurance Program.
The pilot project is scheduled to conclude in September 2020 and is expected to produce two prototype watershed master plans for the state of Florida. The entire initiative is projected to take three years and the next step will be to take the pilot program’s results and apply it statewide.