County prevents need for flood insurance

County instituting new maps with "seclusion" areas

EL PASO, Texas - Flood insurance won't be a necessity for El Paso County residents near the Rio Grande. The possibility was there thanks to new FEMA maps drafted back in 2010. The maps have sat on shelves for years without being put into use, mostly because they identified hundreds of spots as flood zones that were not previously considered to be flood zones.

If the maps were implemented, anyone with a mortgage on a home in the zones would be required to have flood insurance. The county, and other municipalities, have tried to stave off that need because levees are in place near most of the areas identified as flood plains on the new maps. The caveat is that they're not certified levees, meaning they don't show up on maps. In fact, the maps are drawn as if the levees don't exist at all.

On Monday, county leaders drafted a letter to FEMA, adding their support to a plan that would implement the maps with a "seclusion" zone. Essentially it allows the county to move forward with the new maps without imposing the newly-added floodplains until the levee situation is resolved.

The City of El Paso, Las Cruces and several other municipalities have made similar moves in the past.

Commissioner Pat Abeln questioned county staff about the move. Abeln asked whether the levees are keeping the people in the county safe.

"We feel confident that what they're doing will work," explained the county's public works director, Ernie Carrizal. According to Carrizal, the International Boundary Water Commission is building flood walls and working to get the levees up to par so that they will eventually be certified.

Levees surrounding the Rio Grande have been in place a long time. The federal government helped build them years ago, however, since 2005 (post-Hurricane Katrina) FEMA has paid special attention to the state of levees across the country. The Rio Grande, and its floodplains were among the areas that the Army Corps of Engineering began reviewing as far back as 2007. 

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