PERU – A new study says thousands of homes and properties in Peru are at risk of flooding beyond what federal flood maps currently show, raising concerns about insurance rates and economic development in the city.
The study calculates that 4,859 parcels of land in the city are at risk of flooding, representing about 81% of all property in Peru. That’s 590% more properties than what current floodplain maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency show, which lists 712 properties as at risk.
Those numbers mean Peru, which sits beside the Wabash River, has the state’s highest proportion of properties at risk of flooding, and is 8th in the state for overall total properties at risk, according to the study.
First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group, released its findings in June, which documents flood risks for every property in the U.S.
The model used in the study was produced in partnership with hydrologists and researchers from universities and research groups around the country, and was vetted by more than 80 established scientists.
The group says unlike FEMA’s maps, its study takes into account rainfall, ungauged streams, sea level rise and environmental changes to understand how local flood risks have evolved, and those factors account for the large increase in at-risk properties across the nation.
The model used by First Street Foundation Flood identifies around 1.7 times the number of properties in the U.S. as having substantial risk of flooding than currently identified by FEMA. That equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, which FEMA designates as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA).
The study says its model shows 5.9 million properties and property owners in the U.S. are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face because they are not identified as being within the SFHA zone.
And that un-assessed risk has Miami County officials looking into what the study could mean for Peru.
Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, said the county is asking for a proposal from a civil engineering firm, with expertise in floodplains, to evaluate the study to determine if it is accurate and valid.
The firm would also be tasked with determining the potential impact from the huge increase in properties at risk of flooding if the study is accurate.
“We want to take it seriously, especially considering the percentage of land the study suggests should be reclassified in some way,” Tidd said. “When you’re talking about that amount of homes, that’s a significant impact in Miami County, whether it’s in Peru or anywhere else.”
He said if the numbers the study suggest are valid, the expansion of flood-prone areas in Peru could create a serious hurdle for the construction of new houses and lead to ballooning insurance costs for current homeowners and businesses that didn’t realize they were at risk.
However, Tidd said, he questioned some of the study’s numbers in Peru, since the city hasn’t experienced any serious flooding since the construction of the Mississinewa Dam in 1967, which helps control the water level of the Wabash River.
The study says dams were incorporated into its flooding model using the National Inventory of Dams, which provide the spatial and hazard flooding classification data.
Tidd said for now, the city and county will wait for the report from the engineering firm to gauge what kind of economic impact the study might have on properties.
“I don’t want to cause any panic, because right now the worst thing we can do is not have people look at coming to the community because of this unknown flood situation,” he said. “But it’s something we need to methodically investigate to get a better understanding, and work with whatever agencies are involved to lessen the impact if there is one.”
In Howard County, the number of properties at-risk of flooding also saw a substantial uptick. According to the study, nearly 2,800 parcels of land are at risk. FEMA maps currently show just over 1,000 properties to be located in floodplains.
The numbers in Tipton County only increased slightly. The study puts 1,482 properties at risk of flooding, while FEMA maps show 1,112 parcels at risk.
Residents can check the flood risk, as determined by the study, of any property by visiting www.floodfactor.com.
According to First Street Foundation, FEMA has acknowledged that credible tools like it’s recent study, and the searchable website, are needed to educate consumers, particularly where its maps are not up-to-date or do not exist.
FEMA’s Special Flood Hazard Area designation maps are the U.S. legal standard in flood-risk identification, and are widely used by the government and private companies to identify flood risk, price insurance premiums and to prepare for potential hazards.