Malibu little affected by new flood-risk maps

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The maps drawn up by FEMA anger some, who say that the chance of flooding is too low to require mandatory flood insurance.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

Despite the scarcity of rain in Southern California, the federal government is now requiring tens of thousands of residential and commercial property owners in the region to purchase expensive flood insurance due to new maps that claim they are located in high-risk flood zones.

The new flood-risk maps are part of a nationwide initiative started by the Federal Emergency Management Agency seven years ago to pinpoint lands likely to flood in a ?100-year storm,? which the agency states has a 1 percent chance of occurring each year.

Unlike other cities such as Moorpark and Oxnard, Malibu is relatively unaffected by the updated flood maps, as they have not greatly increased the amount of Malibu homes included in high-risk flood zones, City Manager Jim Thorsen, a 25-year participant in the Floodplain Program, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Flood insurance?with annual premiums ranging from $500 to more than $1,700?is obligatory for people with mortgages backed by the federal government as well as those with mortgages through banks on properties designated in high-risk flood zones, FEMA External Affairs Officer Franceska Ramos said Monday in a phone interview. ?If you don?t purchase it, your bank will purchase it for you,? she said.

However, Thorsen said, ?Anybody who purchased property prior to the requirement of flood-zone insurance and hasn?t made any changes in the loan [which could be brought about through refinancing or selling a property] may not have been requested by the loaner to get flood insurance, and therefore don?t require it.

?But, typically, the loaner for anyone who has purchased property in the last 15 to 20 years was supposed to require flood insurance if the property is in a high-flood zone.?

In developing the maps, FEMA conducts a Flood Insurance Study to calculate a community?s flood risk, the agency states on its Web site. The study includes statistical data for river flow, storm tides, hydrologic and hydraulic analyses, and rainfall and topographic surveys.

But the new maps have outraged numerous property owners throughout California who say the small annual probability of a 100-year storm does not merit mandatory flood insurance. Some critics say FEMA is using the flood insurance requirement to finance itself after having been depleted of funding from catastrophic natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

?FEMA is not in the money-making business,? Ramos said in response to the criticism. ?We provide assistance when disaster strikes. Through the national Flood Insurance Programs, we help property owners protect their homes from damages and losses. We encourage the personal flood insurance whether you?re in a high-risk zone or not. The risk of flooding is real.?

FEMA on its Web site argues that though the West Coast rainy season usually lasts from November to April, flooding can happen at anytime. ?A string of large wildfires have dramatically changed the landscape and ground conditions, causing fire-scorched land to become mud flows under heavy rain,? the Web site states. ?Experts say that it might take years for vegetation to return, which will help stabilize these areas.?

The site also states that the West Coast has thousands of miles of levees, which are meant to help properties in case of a flood, but that the levees can erode, weaken, or overtop when waters rise, often causing catastrophic results.

All flood-risk maps that indicate whether a property is located in a high-risk flood zone are available online at www.fema.gov or www.floodsmart.gov.