Peoria County, Illinois

Being in the CRS makes County’s Program Even Broader

“We were doing a lot of floodplain management work before joining the Community Rating System,” says Andrew Braun, Planner for unincorporated Peoria County, Illinois. “Now we are adding a step or two to many of those things to get maximum benefit from the CRS.”

The County’s 630 square miles are situated in north-central Illinois and are subject to flooding mostly from the Illinois River and Kickapoo Creek. It joined the CRS in 1993 and is now a Class 5, realizing a 25% discount on premiums for its 338 National Flood Insurance Program policy holders—a total of around $70,000 annually.

Awareness and Outreach

“Without a doubt, the biggest benefit of joining the CRS has been the attention it has brought to floodplain management in our county,” explains Braun. “Residents, elected officials, county workers, bankers, insurance agents, and others are now more aware of the flood hazard, and they realize that the more effective our program is, the safer our citizens will be. And also, homeowners with NFIP policies will realize a huge reduction in their premiums.”

To earn CRS outreach credit, the County started a flood information page on its website that is constantly being updated. All of the elevation certificates are on that site and can be accessed by the public. A mapping website identifies properties that have elevation certificates. “Potential property buyers, citizens, agents, lenders, and others now have access to all this information as well and it was the CRS that provided the incentive,” Braun explains.

To further reach out to the citizens, the County uses annual mailings and participates in expositions and trade shows. “We teach floodplain management classes at the local community college and at county workshops,” Braun says. The County’s flood hazard maps, mitigation plan, and publications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency all are available locally and online. “We have a much better-informed public because of our outreach efforts and they grew out of the CRS,” says Braun.

Record-keeping and Staying up to Date

“I’d say the second-biggest benefit of being in the CRS is that it forced us to keep better records,” Braun observes. Although the County implemented a range of activities before joining the CRS, “it helped us organize our system and keep track of what we are doing,” he notes. “That alone made a big difference.” The County also benefits from having five of its Planning & Zoning Office staff as Certified Floodplain Managers, also credited under the CRS.

Enforcing the most current buildings codes helps communities ensure that their standards are the best possible. “Needing to maintain our CRS credit has forced us to continually update our building codes and to keep our rating through the Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS),” notes Braun. That help improve the safety of buildings throughout the County.

Reducing Vulnerability to Flood Damage

Since 1988, the County has acquired more than 125 floodplain properties, and in 2015 received two Hazard Mitigation Grant Program grants for total of $3 million. Those funds are targeted to remove another 40 floodprone structures from the floodplain. “Being a Class 5 in the CRS brought us credibility that helped us secure these grants,” says Braun.

Striving for higher CRS credit points under Activity 510 (Floodplain Management Planning) pushed the County to develop a county-wide mitigation plan, according to Braun. “We have a plan we can be proud of, while being a state and regional leader in mitigation planning,” he explains. “Without the CRS, the motivation just was not there.”

It is always hard to quantify what flood losses have been avoided. In June 2015, Peoria County saw its eighth-worst flood in over a century. “We should have had tremendous damage,” observes Braun. “But because of the higher regulatory standards, mitigation activities, and education—all inspired by the CRS—the damage was much less than it would have been.”

CRS Users Group

The CRS Users Groups have been very helpful to Peoria County, according to Braun. The County is a part of the state of Illinois’ Users Group. “But,” Braun explains, “it is centered in Chicago and has most of its focus on urban flooding issues.” So the County led the way in starting a “downstate” CRS Users Group that focuses on rural, riverine conditions. “We deal more with natural features instead of a concrete environment, and it’s easier for other downstate communities to get to meetings outside of the Chicago,” he says. The Chicago group meets three or four times a year and the downstate group meets another one or two times during the year. “It’s all about helping each other and helping communities feel that they do not have to go it alone.”

In conclusion, Braun sums it up: “The Community Rating System puts us in an excellent position to succeed at implementing sound and effective floodplain management in our community. It is the blueprint that we follow.”

Editor’s Note: This is just a glimpse of the many floodplain management approaches implemented by Peoria County. For more, see the county’s website.