A new digital floodplain map of Ellis County is now online, so owners can see if their property has been reclassified as floodplain or not.

The map of Ellis County, developed by FEMA and the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources, can be viewed on the project’s website at http://gis2.kda.ks.gov/gis/ellis.

Some properties will be in the floodplain that weren’t previously, and some that were no longer will be, according to city Public Works Director Jesse Rohr, who said the digital map is still a draft and must undergo a lengthy approval process.

Rohr made the comments to Hays City Commissioners at their regular weekly meeting on Thursday evening.

Ellis County, along with the cities of Hays, Ellis, Victoria, and Schoenchen, will alert owners whose property is changing. Residents are invited to comment and get more information at a meeting on Nov. 6 at Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

“We just received a list of addresses from DWR this morning, and so we’ll be getting the notifications out, a postcard of some type, to everyone,” Rohr said. “It’s a come-and-go meeting, and anyone is welcome to attend.”

The map updates the current 1986 paper floodplain maps. The project is part of a nationwide FEMA push to update floodplain maps using three-dimensional elevation information, with new technology such as LiDAR, or light detection and ranging technology. LiDAR captures more precise elevation measurements by flying a plane over and using light to measure the distance from the ground up.

“We were told by FEMA and DWR that the Ellis County mapping project was one of the first all-2D zoning projects that was done in the entire country,” Rohr said.

The remapping project has been delayed for several years.

“It started with the map modernization project in 2005,” he said. “That five-year project is now in year 15. …The new maps will be electronic, not paper as they are now, and there will also be lots of interactive tools available, such as being able to click on a parcel and get an accurate grade elevation, and a base flood elevation and various measuring tools on any parcel within the county. Overall the maps will be interactive, or what they call DFIRM, or the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map.”

Based on 2D modeling, the maps are more accurate and depict water flow in areas with limited development, he said.

The city of Hays website also has a link to the countywide draft map on a project website that contains not only draft maps but story maps, timelines, meetings, presentations and technical reports.

On the map, users can zoom in to any city as well as all the unincorporated areas, turning various layers on and off, and look at cross-sections or base flood elevation, among other things. 

“Yellow represents property that was in the floodplain in the past and is proposed to remain in the floodplain,” Rohr said. “Red coloring is properties that were not in the floodplain previously but are proposed to be in the floodplain, and then the green colors are properties that are in the floodplain currently and are proposed to be out of the floodplain.”

The draft will likely be adopted in 2021, after meeting lengthy due process requirements. That includes community review, public review, a 90-day appeal period, and a 6-month period for communities to review the maps and adopt new floodplain ordinances if necessary.

At the open house, property owners can meet with FEMA and DWR representatives, engineering staff, and city and county staff. The officials are on hand to meet with owners about specific properties, and insurance experts will be on hand to talk about flood insurance. There will also be an insurance workshop for insurance agents and real estate agents, and anyone else who is interested.

In the past, property owners could appeal a floodplain designation, said City Commissioner Eber Phelps.

“Can somebody still do that?” Phelps asked.

Rohr said yes.

“A property owner can obtain survey data, what’s called an elevation survey, an elevation certificate, submit that work to FEMA, who then if it meets the criteria can remove it from the floodplain,” Rohr said. “So if it’s elevated above base flood elevation, whether that be lowest adjacent grade to the structure, maybe the entire lot, whatever it might be, there are different types available, that will still remain after this.”

The new digital map helps city and county staff determine base flood elevation for new construction. City ordinances, state statutes and federal regulations require new properties built in the floodplain to be built, in the case of Hays, a minimum of one foot above base flood elevation.

Until the new map, the city didn’t have an accurate representation of base flood elevation or accurate grade elevation, Rohr said.

“So this mapping project will combine the two,” he said. “Every pixel on that map will have a representation of what those elevations are. …Just by going to the website, and not just staff, but anyone in the public, can have access to this. They’ll be able to have that data firsthand.”