FLOOD PROTECTION

Cedar Rapids' efforts lead to lower flood insurance rates for property owners

Premiums discounted based on program that ranks response and mitigation

In a Sept, 17, 2020, photo, construction continues on the McGrath Amphitheatre flood wall in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Ji
In a Sept, 17, 2020, photo, construction continues on the McGrath Amphitheatre flood wall in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When the Cedar River flooded over 10 square miles of the city in 2008, few property owners had flood insurance — slowing recovery for residents and business owners as they waited for resources from the federal government.

In 2010, city officials set out to change that by beginning the process to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city’s participation in the program means residents who buy flood insurance receive lower premiums for their homes or businesses.

The city’s efforts to reduce flood damage, foster comprehensive flood plain management and work toward building a more flood-resilient community have earned it a designation as a Class 6 community. The means a 20 percent discount on flood insurance premiums for Cedar Rapids residents compared with those in communities not in the program.

Communities are rated on a range from Class 1, in which residents receive a 45 percent discount, to Class 10, which indicates a community does not participate in the Community Rating System. Communities are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

More than 1,500 communities participate nationwide in the Community Rating System, and only 13 of those are in Iowa. Only 18 communities nationwide are rated higher than a Class 5.

Cedar Rapids Development Services Manager Ken DeKeyser said factors including the city’s construction of a permanent flood control system, efforts to inform the public on flood insurance and flood hazards as well as mapping and other regulations affect the designation.

“As we put all those pieces together, they kind of improve our flood resilience and therefore we become a little less risky for the insurance companies, which makes it easier for the insurance policies to be issued at a lower rate,” he said.

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The city’s work on the $550 million permanent system of levees, removable walls, gates and other infrastructure will be a “game changer,” DeKeyser said. It will help make properties less prone to flooding and result in some being removed from being designated as in the flood plain.

But construction of the permanent system alone won’t advance the city to Class 1, DeKeyser said. There are other regulations the city could consider to move up.

He said the city uses an ordinance for flood plain management typically seen throughout Iowa that regulates developments within the 100-year flood plain. But some communities with a higher class rating regulate developments in the 500-year flood plain.

“We’re thinking about that as a possibility but we just haven’t broached it yet, because right now it’s quite a change just getting our developers used to our current standards and flood plain management and it might be a little too much, too fast to get to that next point,” DeKeyser said.

Bill Cappuccio, a flood plain management engineer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said residents of communities that do not participate in this federal program face more obstacles in getting things like loans and disaster assistance when there is a flood.

Cappuccio, the state’s National Flood Insurance Program coordinator, said Cedar Rapids has been ambitious and proactive in trying to provide the kind of protection that would prevent the level of damage seen in 2008. He pointed to the city’s steps to mitigate risk through regulation and construction of the permanent system and its removal of structures in the flood plain.

Other potential improvements communities could consider include requiring developments be built a foot above the 500-year flood plain or requiring higher standards for critical facilities such as city buildings, fire stations, power plants and wastewater treatment plants, Cappuccio said.

“They’re doing a great job,” Cappuccio said. “Are there things that they can do to get more points and to reduce the flood risk even more? Sure. But every community has to weigh for itself what the pluses and minuses of that are.”

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The cost of a flood insurance policy, which is separate from homeowner’s insurance, can vary greatly according to where the property is located and the type of structure on it, in addition to other factors.

In Cedar Rapids, Cappuccio said, there currently are 1,513 flood insurance policies. Of those, 452 are in the mapped 100-year flood plain and the rest are outside that area.

“The community’s efforts to stay in the program and get reauthorized provide thousands of dollars of savings to the community,” said City Council member Tyler Olson, who chairs the council’s Flood Control System committee. “People that live in the flood plain and need to purchase that insurance are happy with those savings. We continue to work as quickly as we can to build permanent flood protection on both sides of the river.”

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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