Newschannel 6 Exclusive: Flood Fight

It's every homeowner's worst nightmare. Rising flood waters threatening to destroy everything you own. Texoma is no stranger to the dangers of flooding. Many in high-risk areas are required to carry some kind of coverage. But, knowing if you're in one of those areas isn't quite so cut and dry. In fact, your house could be in one right now and you might not know it. That is costing some Texomans big bucks.

In late June of 2007 heavy rains pounded Texoma, causing wide-spread flooding and evacuations. It was a sight many in Texoma will not soon forget. Events like that are why many homeowners in high-risk areas carry flood insurance. Most mortgage lenders require it while you pay off your loan.  But, flood zones change and that can cost you a lot of money, even if your home has never been touched by flood water.

Deny Bishop knows many of the ins and outs of flood plains. He is a co-owner of Bishop Realtor Group in Wichita Falls. Bishop said the issue of flood zones is complex and often confusing. "It's a very mystical zone, sometimes, that we see," he said. "There's nothing fair about it, in our opinion, about flood zones because it's all based on FEMA statistics rather than reality."

FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It's a division of the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA is the agency responsible for drawing the flood plain maps.

FEMA's "mystical zones" became reality for residents of the Bayberry and Bluebonnet areas of Wichita Falls in February 2010. Both neighborhoods, off of Barnett Road near Memorial Stadium, were thrust into flood zones when FEMA redrew the flood maps. Many homeowners were required to carry flood insurance for the first time. Others who already carried flood protection, were hit with massive sticker shock.

Farmers Insurance Group Agency Owner Jim Potts said some people saw their flood insurance rates triple. Many policies run between $450 and $650 a year. When the flood zones changed, some property owners were quoted rates over $3,000 annually.

Bishop said homeowners can challenge the designation of being in a flood zone. But, it could cost hundreds of dollars to get a surveyor to issue a certificate of elevation. Bishop says often times the challenge is unsuccessful until FEMA draws the maps again.

There is good news for residents of the Bayberry and Bluebonnet areas. Because of the efforts of city staff, most homes in both areas will be out of the flood zone by June 1, 2011. Glenn Soerens, a Storm Water Engineer with the City of Wichita Falls, said city officials didn't think the FEMA maps were accurate. So, he said, the city performed it's own studies of the neighborhoods.

The city's maps removed nearly 150 houses from the two flood zones, and city officials applied to FEMA for a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). The revisions have been approved and will take effect June 1, 2011.

Soerens also said the city is constantly working to keep flood zone maps accurate and fair for city residents. Culvert work along Kemp Blvd. has removed nearly all homes in the Faith Village neighborhood from flood zones. Another LOMR  request should remove 50 to 75 more near Upper Plum Creek.

At a special meeting of Wichita Falls City Council, held at the MPEC this week, city officials outlined the Drainage Master Plan. In all, 17 projects totaling $37 million will attempt to protect Wichita Falls residents and businesses from flood dangers and remove many more houses from flood zones. The work includes removing around 90 percent of vegetation from along the banks of the Wichita River. Recent US Geological Survey studies indicate vegetation was a big cause of flooding on the city's east side and downtown in 2007.

The changes should help many property owners lower their flood insurance premiums. But, many have been overpaying since February 2010. Changes won't get their money back. And, insurance costs aren't the only way homeowners are taking a big hit. Many have trouble selling homes once the word flood becomes attached to their property.

"You know, the word flood has a negative stigma to it," said Bishop. "I've had some of our friends say...if we had a choice, we'd rather have a tornado than a flood." Bishop said one of his sellers recently took a $13,000 loss on a home on Bayberry. The house was never involved in a flood.

"Perceptions is always greater than reality," said Bishop. "In flood zones, that's really true."

Bishop also said some homeowners were never aware they were placed in a flood zone. One of his clients, who owned his home for years, didn't find out until he went to sell the property. That added many steps to the process of selling the home.

Bishop and Potts both recommend you educate yourself about flooding issues. Potts said it's a good idea to check in with your insurance agent annually, to be sure you have enough coverage and you aren't paying too much for it. Bishop said the same of checking flood maps to see if your home has been added to flood zones. FEMA and the City of Wichita Falls post updated flood maps on their Web sites.

Tim Barnosky, Newschannel 6.

To see if your Wichita Falls home falls within a flood zone click here.

FEMA posts flood zone maps for the entire country.

To learn more about flood insurance programs visit the National Flood Insurance Program Web site here.