Centralia, Washington

With CRS, Centralia Reduces Amount of Floodprone Property

Reducing flood damage is what it’s all about for Centralia, Washington, a town of almost 17,000 in west central Washington State. “We’ve had a lot of flood loss reduction success in our community,” says Emil Pierson, Community Development Director, “and a lot of it was due to the Community Rating System and its multi pronged approach.” Centralia is a CRS Class 6, earning 20% discount on flood insurance premiums for its floodplain residents.

Significant flooding in Centralia—at least nine times in the last 35 years—comes from the Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers and three creeks. The Chehalis saw record high levels as recently as 2009 and 2007. In response Centralia has developed a comprehensive program for this ongoing hazard, passing regulations that exceed the minimum standards of the National Flood Insurance Program, managing stormwater and the drainage system, encouraging property owners to undertake mitigation measures, and working towards more open space for flood flows—both within the community and upstream.

Centralia has leveraged the CRS to strengthen its floodplain management initiatives. “The point system of the CRS spells it all out pretty clearly for our elected officials,” Pierson says. He and other staff use the point system to help explain the benefits of the CRS, how many points the community will get for a given activity, and how much reduction in flood insurance premiums will result for NFIP policy holders. “The CRS helped us get support from our officials for the development of our Flood Information Website, which we are very proud of.”

Pierson adds, “Just as important were the ISO/CRS Specialists we were fortunate enough to work with. They were fantastic.”

Less Exposure to Damage, More Space Open

An important focus of Centralia’s program are the houses and other buildings that are repeatedly damaged by flooding. With the city as a driving force, 170 homes have been elevated so far.

The community has used Federal Emergency Management Agency mitigation grants and state mitigation funds to help it purchase frequently flooded homes and move them out of the floodplain.

The city’s approach to removing additional structures from the floodplain is to assign priority to homes that are adjacent to existing open space. In that way, the natural functions of the open space are optimized, because a larger, contiguous area, is more beneficial. The city uses a combination of zoning, building codes, regulations, and other techniques to “build” its open space and keep it open.

The latest undertaking by the city and encouraged by the CRS is the development of a master plan that works hand in hand with repetitive loss plans Centralia has already adopted. The existing plans call for purchasing flooded homes next to existing open space. The new approach involves identifying existing open space the city wants to enlarge and then—before the flood—figuring out which properties adjacent to the open space the city wants purchase. This has included developing a funding source with the State of Washington to purchase these properties when they become available from willing sellers. “This is a more pro-active approach than waiting until the properties are flooded,” says Pierson.

Partnerships Mean Progress

Centralia’s floodplain management codes and regulations are stricter than normal, and were designed with the needs of the community in mind. But for those standards to make a difference, they have to be enthusiastically adhered to. “The idea was to get buy-in from the developers,” Pierson explains, so the city got the development community to participate in the formulation of the codes and regulations from the beginning, as opposed to giving them the rules after they were adopted.

Centralia found another opportunity to join forces with an outside entity when the U.S. Department of Transportation filled in part of the city’s floodplain area as part of an interstate highway project. Centralia was paid $500,000 in compensation, and used those funds to purchase some upstream property and create a multi partner flood storage system that helps alleviate flows.

“We have a forward-looking and very strong management program and this is due primarily to the CRS,” Pierson observed. “There is no doubt that without the CRS, we would not have been as aggressive.”

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