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Flood insurance: to buy or not to buy?

After disastrous flooding in 2008, many homeowners have questions about flood insurance, including whether or not they should purchase this coverage for their property. The City of Iowa City Neighborhood Services Division offers the following information from FEMA and other sources.

In some situations, flood insurance is mandatory. Structures in the 1% annual-chance flood hazard area that are financed with federally-insured loans, and homes that have been flooded and repaired with federal funds regardless of whether or not they’re in the 100-year flood plain, all require flood insurance.

The purchase of flood insurance is optional if the property is located in an area where there is a 0.2% chance of flooding in any given year (commonly referred to as the 500-year flood plain). Homes located in the 100-year flood plain can also opt out of mandatory flood insurance if the home was purchased without a federally insured loan.

To find out whether a home is located in a flood plain, homeowners can review a Flood Insurance Rate Map on the FEMA website. On the map, properties in the 100-year flood plain are identified as Zone A; those in the 500-year flood plain are listed as Zone X. Local flood plain maps are also available on the Johnson County website at www.johnson-county.com. Select the county’s Desktop GIS Map Viewer, enter an address in the fields shown, or select a region by putting your cursor on the map of Johnson County and zooming in. Use the toolbar at the top of the map to select the most recent Aerial view, and go to Layers for the FEMA folder. Check the box next to “FEMA” and then select the type of flood information you want from the pull-down menu that opens when you click on the arrow to the left of the FEMA box. If the color of the land changes, the property is in a flood hazard area. To find out whether a property flooded in 2008, select the 2008 Flood box.

For more information on FloodSmart, visit floodsmart.gov

For more information on Iowa Floodplain and Stormwater Management Association, visit iowafloods.org

For more information on Iowa Flood Center, visit iowafloodcenter.org

For more information on FEMA, visit fema.gov

For more information, call 319-356-5122, or contact your insurance provider.


Flood Insurance Purchase Requirement

Iowa City participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which makes federally-backed flood insurance available for all eligible buildings, whether they are in a floodplain or not. Iowa City also participates in the Community Rating System (CRS) and has earned an automatic 20% discount on flood insurance premiums for structures in the 1% annual-chance flood hazard area. 

The NFIP insures commercial and residential buildings, including mobile homes, with two types of coverage: building and contents. Building coverage is for the walls, floors, insulation, furnace, and other items permanently attached to the structure. Contents coverage may be purchased separately, if the contents are in an insurable building. 

Flood hazards in Iowa City

There are two designated flood hazard areas in Iowa City: the 1% (or 100-year) and the 0.2% (or 500-year). Over the life of a 30-year mortgage, there is a 26% chance that a home in the 1% flood hazard area will flood at least once. Over the same period of time, there is a 6% chance that a home in the 0.2% flood hazard area will flood at least once. 

Loans, assistance and Federally-mandated flood insurance

Since 1973, flood insurance has been mandatory for federally-backed mortgages on buildings that are located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). The SFHA is the 1% flood hazard area that is illustrated with an “A” on Iowa City’s Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). 

The mandatory purchase of flood insurance for homes in the SFHA applies to loans from financial institutions that are regulated, supervised, or insured by Federal agencies. It also applies to mortgage loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in the secondary mortgage market. 

The mandatory purchase of flood insurance for homes in the SFHA applies to financial assistance programs from federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Farmers Home Administration, Federal Housing Administration, Small Business Administration and FEMA. 

Note: New Flood Insurance Rate Maps to become effective in Spring 2022 

In Spring 2022, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be issuing new Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Iowa City and throughout Johnson County.  When the new maps become effective, the greatest impacts will be seen along Ralston Creek and Willow Creek.

Flood heights along Ralston Creek decreased.  Some homes and businesses that were previously in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), and subject to the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement, may no longer be in the SFHA.

Flood heights along Willow Creek increased.  Some homes that were not in the SFHA for Willow Creek may now be in the SFHA and subject to the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement.

If you think you may be impacted by the new mapping, contact your insurance agent and a licensed surveyor.

For more information, call Neighborhood Development Services at 319-356-5230.

How it works: Lending institutions

When you approach a federally-insured lender to get a mortgage, credit loan or home equity loan, or to re-finance an existing loan, that lender is required to complete a Standard Flood Hazard Determination (SFHD) form. If the determination finds that a building is in an SFHA, the lender is obligated by law to require that the building be insured against flood. Federal regulations require that the coverage be equal to the amount of the loan for the structure, or the maximum amount of insurance available from NFIP (whichever is less). 

Some lenders require flood insurance coverage equal to the value of the structure – not just the loan amount. While this may exceed the federal regulation, it is the right of a mortgage lender to require more insurance than the federally-defined minimum. Similarly, it is the right of a mortgage lender to require flood insurance for structures that are in the 0.2% (aka 500-year) floodplain. 

The mandatory purchase requirement does not affect loans or financial assistance for items such as vehicles, business expenses, landscaping, and vacant lots. It does not affect loans for buildings that are not in an SFHA. 

Appealing the requirement for flood insurance

If you believe that an SFHD form has incorrectly placed a building in the SFHA, you may request a Letter of Determination Review from FEMA. This must be submitted within 45 days of the determination. If FEMA determines that the SFHD is valid and you still believe the determination to be in error, you may apply for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA).  


Floodplain Permitting Information

Iowa City requires elevation certificates (ECs) for all new or substantially improved structures in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), as described in Iowa City’s Zoning Ordinance, 14-5J.

When a property owner requests a permit to build a new structure, remodel an existing structure, or repair a damaged structure, the Iowa City Building Division staff will determine if the parcel is within the SFHA. If the parcel is within the SFHA, a floodplain development permit will be required.

If the structure itself is within the SFHA, an EC will be required at the conclusion of the project if any of the following are applicable:

  • The structure is newly constructed; or
  • An existing structure is being remodeled or repaired, and the value of the work is equal to or greater than 50% of the structure’s value before the remodel/repair; or
  • An existing structure is being remodeled with an addition that increases the original floor area by 25% or more. 

At the time an EC is submitted, it is reviewed and approved by Iowa City’s floodplain administrator, who is a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM®).  If corrections are required, the EC is returned for revisions with errors noted. 

A Certificate of Occupancy for a new building will not be issued until a complete and correct EC is received. 

All ECs are saved by the Floodplain Manager in two locations: the EC is retained with building permit documentation, and in a separate database of all ECs for new and substantially improved structures in Iowa City flood hazard areas. 

ECs are available for review upon request, and are easy to reference and locate through the online permit database system.


How do I find...

If there is an Elevation Certificate for my property? Call 319-356-5122. 

If my home flooded during the 2008 or 2013 floods? Go to the Johnson County GIS Property Information View (PIV) and find the links to photos from those years. 

If my home or business is in a flood hazard area? Again, go to http://gis.johnson-county.com/piv/.  On the right side of the screen you’ll find a screen to search by address.  Once you’ve been taken to the map view, you can use the pull-down Layer menu (left of the links to aerial photos) to select: 

  • FEMA 
  • Put your cursor on the arrow to the left of FEMA to open another pull-down menu and select “flood hazard areas” 
  • If you have trouble using this tool, call 319-356-5122. 

​If my home or business has been removed from a flood hazard area with a Letter of Map Change? You can search on the www.FEMA.gov website or call 319-356-5122. 

The right department to inquire about a clogged storm drain or stormwater management facility that appears to need maintenance? Call 319-356-5170. 

How to volunteer for the Adopt-A-Storm-Drain program? Call 319-356-5164.


Iowa City flood facts

In Iowa City, the Iowa River and its five tributaries – Clear Creek, Ralston Creek, Rapid Creek, Snyder Creek, and Willow Creek – transport snowmelt and rain within their banks. Throughout the year, water overtops the banks and spreads out into floodplains. The area of floodplain is greatest around the Iowa River (over 900 acres) and includes nearly 300 structures. Along Ralston Creek, the floodplain is less than half that size (about 400 acres) but it contains roughly 450 structures.

Floodplains are categorized according to the likelihood of flooding. The most likely flood is within the 1% Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA - sometimes referred to as the 100-year floodplain). Less likely, but more devastating, is the 0.2% SFHA (sometimes referred to as the 500-year floodplain). The 0.2% flood elevations along the Iowa River are as much as four feet higher than the 1% flood elevations. 

In flood hazard areas, new buildings, additions, remodels and repairs require a floodplain development permit as well as a building permit. In Iowa City, new buildings are elevated or flood-proofed to one foot above the 0.2% flood elevation. Existing buildings are elevated or flood-proofed to one foot above the 0.2% flood elevation if the original floor area is being increased by 25%, or if the project value equals at least 50% of the structure’s value.

Floodwaters are dangerous because they tear out trees and carry large debris that can destroy buildings. A car can be lifted and carried away in one foot of flowing water, and six inches of flood water can knock down an adult. Children should be instructed at a young age to stay away from floodwater in streets and streams. Floodwater also carries contaminants and can make garden produce unsafe to eat. 

The safest way to protect your buildings and property from flood damage is to build or locate outside of a flood hazard area. If your home or business is in a flood hazard area, you can minimize the likelihood of damage by elevating the lowest finished floor and essential utilities (furnace, water heater, electrical service). 

Localized flooding is often the result of failing or unmaintained infrastructure. You can report clogged inlets, culverts, and stormwater detention basins that have collected debris by going to ICGov.org, and using ICGovXpress. City staff will inspect, and contact whoever is responsible for maintaining this segment of the drainage system. If you don’t have a computer or experience difficulty using ICGovXpress, call 319/356-5120.

If your property is in a flood hazard area, you should have flood insurance. In Iowa City, floodplain premiums for structures in the 1% SFHA are automatically reduced by 20% because Iowa City participates in the Community Rating System.

Johnson County uses Alert Iowa to provide emergency information to residents with a voice or text message. You can register for Alert Iowa at www.johnson-county.com or by calling 319-356-5700. The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) provides up-to-the-minute information on Coralville Dam release rates as well as river gauge readings and flood stages on iowafloodcenter.org.

Is your home, apartment, or business in a floodplain? View the Floodplain Rental Property Map and Flood Hazard Areas Map. If you need a more detailed view, you can use the Johnson County GIS viewer. If you have questions or experience difficulty finding information, call 319-356-5132 for assistance.