By Mark Waite -
Many Pahrump residents who have to pay annual flood insurance premiums wonder why they’re needed in the desert where only four inches of rain falls on average in a year.
“I get that all the time. FEMA’s answer for that is you could get flooded anywhere,” Nye County Flood Plain Administrator George Bernath said.
But when will the 100-year flood come and where?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency released new flood zone maps for Pahrump, which are already arousing some controversy from developers of subdivisions no longer outside the zone.
The maps were developed after an extensive, multi-year study of the Pahrump Valley that used state-of-the-art technologies and risk modeling techniques, a Nye County press release states.
“Over the past couple of years, Nye County officials have worked closely with FEMA to make sure that these maps are the most accurate picture possible of our flood risk. This information will not only ensure that our homes and businesses are insured appropriately against flooding, but will help officials make more informed decisions about how to protect Pahrump from what might otherwise be devastating events,” the county states.
Bernath said as of May there were 3,317 properties protected by flood insurance policies in Nye County, with a total coverage of $705 million. Total damages paid out for flood insurance in the county since the inception of the National Flood Insurance Program in 1983 has been $249,000. He said the average premium paid for a parcel owner with flood insurance is $412.
“There are concerns by the Mountain Falls and Artesia folks who did their studies back in the day, about why they’re being put back in the flood zone,” Bernath said.
The Mountain Falls golf course is actually a flood diversion route.
“There are areas that will be put into flood zones and there are areas that are in flood zones now that will be removed from flood zones,” Bernath said.
An August 2005 Pahrump flood zone map lists much of the area south of Highway 372 — but excluding an area from Mountain Falls southwest to the state line — as an AO zone, meaning they would be flooded with water depths of one to five feet in a 100-year flood.
“It’s a 1 percent chance in any given year. That’s really not realistic either. The analogy FEMA gives us is, if you have a jar of marbles with 100 marbles in it and you pull out one, that’s your 100-year flood, but you put it back in and you can pull it out 100 times from now. It’s not a realistic number, it doesn’t happen every 100 years,” Bernath said.
“The 100-year rain event for this area is about three inches in one hour and that’s a lot of rain, but it has happened,” he said.
Pahrump gets four inches of rain in an entire year on average.
A triangular shaped area in the middle of Pahrump Valley west of Highway 160 and north of Highway 372 is in an X flood zone, within a 500-year flood zone.
“The X zone doesn’t have to have insurance, however it’s up to the mortgage company or the person holding the mortgage. If they want you to have flood insurance you have to get it, whether you’re in the flood zone or not,” Bernath said.
If someone pays flood insurance and they are removed from the flood zone with the new map, they are eligible for a refund, he said.
Proposed flood maps are available on the FEMA website but they can be difficult to read. The address is at http://www.r9map.org/Pages/ProjectDetailsPage.aspx?choLoco=84&choProj=248 Bernath said maps will also be made available at an open house, probably in late September or early October. The county says the open house is also intended to inform residents and business owners how the local risk of flooding has changed, how the proposed new flood maps will be used and steps they can take to protect themselves from extensive flood damage. Bernath said the county intends to send out mailers to parcels subject to change in the new map.
A 30-day comment period on the map began Aug. 31. It’s followed by a 90-day appeal period. Once comments are received and addressed and after a six month waiting period, the maps are expected to be adopted.
FEMA statistics show a lot of flood damages are in areas that aren’t located in flood zones, Bernath said.
FEMA incorporated new topography studies from 2010 and newer precipitation data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the new flood maps, Bernath said. They used base maps with county aerials from the county Geographic Information System, he said.
Nye County itself encountered flood plain issues when county officials wanted to remodel the old Preferred Equities buildings on the Calvada Eye. Charles Abbott and Associates told county commissioners the buildings were in the flood plain and it would cost too much to elevate them, they were eventually razed.
Bernath said he encounters frequent problems with buildings that lack elevation certificates in the flood plain.
“They’ve been constructed correctly but they weren’t documented. When you build a structure if you’re in a flood zone you’re supposed to do an elevation certificate which documents the height of the finished floor above the grade. Those weren’t done regularly until 2007. We had an audit by FEMA, they wrote us up on not doing this in the past,” Bernath said.
Nye County Commissioners in March 2008 received a $386,946 report from Bureau Veritas which outlined a proposed flood control district service plan that could be funded by setting up a GID with an assessment of $180 per acre. The report suggested nine dams on Wheeler Wash to catch flooding, 18 detention basins and a series of channels. The most expensive option would’ve cost $315 million, but was designed to control flooding, much like the massive flood control structures in Clark County. The study was never implemented.
Former Pahrump Regional Planning Commission member Carrick “Bat” Masterson, a local Realtor, commented at the time the flood zones were keeping some people from buying homes in Pahrump. He said the assessment to pay for the improvements as part of a flood control GID would be less than the cost of flood insurance.