WATERLOO, Iowa --- A hydraulic study of Dry Run Creek could help remove hundreds of homes from the flood plain.
City officials confirmed Thursday that new models prepared by AECOM, an engineering firm, dramatically reduce the size of the 100-year flood plain, which engulfs more than 300 homes and businesses on the city's near west side. Inclusion forces many to carry flood insurance, which can be expensive.
"I'm pretty excited about this if it all comes true," Councilman Ron Welper said. "It's looking really good for us, but we don't want to get the citizens all riled up until it's finalized by FEMA."
Welper previously leveled harsh criticism against new FEMA flood insurance rate maps, adopted July 2011, that added a large portion of the Dry Run Creek area to the flood plain. The neighborhood --- mostly above the underground storm water tunnel from Liberty Park to the Cedar River at Sixth Street downtown --- has not flooded since the city's levee system was constructed.
Many homeowners in the zone were forced to buy flood insurance by mortgage lenders. Others worried the status would make selling their houses in the future difficult or impossible.
Council members agreed later in 2011 to spend up to $49,000 to have AECOM study the area and attempt to reduce the flood plain.
"It turned out better than I expected," Associate City Engineer Jamie Knutson said. "But it didn't get everybody out."
He also cautioned that FEMA has not reviewed AECOM's work or approved any changes in the floodplain.
"The revised mapping is very positive, but we still have to submit the technical documents to FEMA," Knutson said. "It's still probably a six-month to one-year process before FEMA approves any new maps. Until they do, the old maps are still the rule."
Welper said changes in the maps may not arrive before residents in the existing floodplain get socked with more expensive flood insurance. For the first two years after being added to a floodplain, residents were able to buy insurance for about $300 a year, well below the normal $1,500 to $1,800 annual premiums.
"This is the year when they lost that preferred rate," he said.
If the city is successful in getting the flood maps revised, Welper said property owners should be reimbursed for having to buy flood insurance when they were not really in a flood zone.
"It would be like paying a speeding ticket and then finding out the (police) radar wasn't accurate," Welper said. "We want our money back."