Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Trail System helps Floodplain Management—and Vice Versa

When work began on the Pathfinder Parkway in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in the late 1970s, the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System did not yet exist. But 30 years later, Bartlesville’s CRS program and the Parkway have become intertwined with each other—and also with the quality of life of the city’s residents.

Bartlesville, a city of about 36,000, lies in the northeastern part of the state, and is bisected by the Caney River, which also has been the principal source of flooding.

Pathfinder Parkway is a 12-mile paved trail that wanders through Bartlesville along the Caney River and its tributary, Turkey Creek. It was built as a Community Bicentennial Project, and then designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1977. It connects several neighborhood parks and recreation centers, commercial districts, and schools, making it an ideal off-road alternative for commuting to school or work. The trail itself is a recreational opportunity, too, as it meanders through wooded wildlife habitat and along the water’s edge and is used by hikers, bikers, joggers, and nature lovers. Educational materials are posted to help users identify birds and other wildlife.

“The opportunity to get reductions in NFIP flood insurance premiums based on CRS ratings was one of the principal motivators for us to join the Community Rating System,” said Terry Lauritsen, Director of Engineering and Water Utilities. Bartlesville joined the CRS early in the program, in 1992. Now a CRS Class 7, Bartlesville earns a 15% discount on flood insurance premiums for its residents.

City’s Open Space Yields Many Benefits

When it joined the CRS, open space turned out to be one of Bartlesville’s biggest CRS-credited activities. Because no development means no property damaged by flooding, the CRS provides substantial credit when communities keep areas adjacent to their drainageways in a natural condition. “We have about one to one-and-a-half miles of floodplain open space along the river,” Lauritsen explains. This open space, which includes parts of the Pathfinder Parkway, is dedicated to trails, parks, and other green space activities.

Even though the Pathfinder Parkway was in place long before the CRS, Bartlesville still earns credit points for the ongoing open space benefits it provides. What’s more, the CRS is providing a somewhat unexpected benefit for the Parkway, too. “Pristine open space in the middle of the community will eventually come under pressure from development interests,” Lauritsen explains. Because keeping floodprone spaces open spaces earns ongoing CRS credit, “the CRS will be instrumental in keeping this property as open space, as that pressure increases.”

More Activities, More CRS Credit

Open space is only one of the CRS-credited floodplain management techniques used by Bartlesville. The city has a geographic information system (GIS) with layers of data for many types of community information. Because of its emphasis on the CRS, the city added layers not only for the FEMA floodplain maps, but for other flood-prone areas within the city as well, earning credit for “additional map data” under CRS Activity 440. Just as important is the enhanced usefulness provided by the digitized data layers. “The GIS provides a more comprehensive set of data that is critical for our decision-makers. Having the floodplain maps and flood prone areas included in that data set has helped tremendously,” Lauritsen noted.

Bartlesville also implements regulations that go beyond the NFIP minimum standards, qualifying for CRS credit. In particular, requiring one foot of freeboard for all new and substantially improved development and prohibiting fill have helped minimize development in the floodplains, according to Lauritsen.

When, in 2013, the CRS introduced the new “program for public information” credit, Bartlesville began stepping up its outreach and flood hazard information activities. It produces and distributes flyers to the public, floodplain residents, and real estate agents. The Bartlesville City Council adopted proclamations for Flood Awareness Month and Flood Insurance Month—April and May, respectively—which are posted on the city’s website.

Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of the numerous floodplain management and CRS activities being carried out in Bartlesville. For more details, see the city’s website.