BROOKSVILLE — For the last several years, Hernando County public works officials have been working with state and federal officials to evaluate, map and fix flooding concerns in more than 20 watersheds across the county.
The work is nearing completion, and that will bring benefits to Hernando residents, county storm water engineer Clay Black told the County Commission on Tuesday.
Taking the time and spending money to complete the project could translate into lower flood insurance premiums, grant funding for projects to prevent floods and a more-informed citizenry that will know ahead of time where flooding is likely to occur.
As an example, had the Peck Sink watershed study and map been done sooner, it might have prevented the flooded cars in the Brooksville Publix parking lot, the water flowing into the Big Lots store nearby and the storage sheds that floated down U.S. 41 during heavy rains one evening this summer.
Black said that Peck Sink is one of three watersheds still under study, but that preliminary findings confirm that the area surrounding the intersection of Cortez Boulevard and Broad Street — once thought to be an area that would not flood — is indeed a bowl with serious drainage issues.
The other two areas still under study are the Squirrel Prairie and Crews Lake watersheds, south of Brooksville and reaching into Pasco County.
Working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, county officials look at topographical information, use computer models and examine how water flows through the various watersheds.
FEMA is doing a separate study of the county's coastal zone.
The other three watershed studies should be done next year, Black said. Once they are approved by Swiftmud's governing board, FEMA will begin its approval process, which takes about 18 months and includes gathering public input.
Once FEMA signs off, the details in the maps become base flood elevations to be used in future land-use planning and by insurance companies.
Residents will be able to go online and see if a parcel of land they want to buy is high and dry, or susceptible to flooding, Black said.
The maps will allow future planning efforts to be tailored around flood zones, lessening the likelihood of damages during storms. More than that, the maps and the analysis will lead to a plan for how to address challenges that already exist.
"We'll have a better understanding of where the problems are, and we'll have a better understanding of how to solve them,'' Black said.
Because Swiftmud officials are participating in the process, that opens up cooperative funding opportunities for the county and the water management district to fix problem areas.
The county's efforts also will help it keep a good federal flood insurance rating, which presently gives the roughly 5,000 policy holders in Hernando a 20 percent discount. Black said he is hopeful of bringing the discount up to 25 percent.
Black also explained that counties that have worked toward mitigating flooding are eligible for hazard mitigation grants that others might not qualify to receive.
The process drew praise from commissioners. Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he liked seeing the county be proactive on flooding issues, and Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he could see how the mapping project would benefit residents.
Commissioner Jim Adkins said he had seen the maps.
"The mapping is very accurate,'' Adkins said. "It will show you the highs and the lows and the way the water flows.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.