Delaware Public Media

Delaware communities adopting stricter flood building codes

Apr 8, 2015

As new federal flood insurance maps go into effect, 48 Delaware communities are updating their building code standards.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released new flood insurance rate maps for all three counties over the past year.

Increased risks prompted 40 communities to add extra elevation to new  structures above the 100-year flood level. Most officials opted for an extra foot and a half, while others adopted 12 inches of freeboard.

But that only applies to new construction. DNREC environmental scientist Mike Powell says current homes and buildings would only have to conform if they’re hit by an extreme event.

“If a structure is heavily damaged by flooding then when they’re repaired, they’re required to build their building up to that higher standard,” Powell said.

He says the new standards will make flood insurance purchased through FEMA cheaper.

The rate maps don't take into account sea level rise, though.

DNREC projections say water is expected to rise by at least 12 inches by 2100.

Despite that, Powell says the extra space above the 100-year flood level will help give some leeway as time goes on.

“It will absolutely have benefits for areas that are impacted by sea level rise and it will provide a huge level of protection just against current storm risk. So from both ways you look at it, it’s very beneficial.”

More than 17 percent of Delaware sits within a high-risk flood zone, including about 18,000 buildings.