Living in the lowcountry we're surrounded by water, so every homeowner knows the relevance of The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and their flood zones. The government agency is changing all of their Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Charleston County. Instead of collective vexation, it is important to remember that FEMA is there to protect the public and our properties from inappropriate development and avoidable flood risk. A key tool in achieving this is the development of accurate flood maps, and for many years now Charleston County has lagged behind the digital age, relying instead on hard copy maps developed in the 1970s. All that is now going to change as we enter the digital age.
The FEMA site of interest can be found HERE. Select SC for "State," Charleston County for "County," and Charleston County All Juristictions for "Community." In doing so, you will see three categories:
- Effective Products (278) - These are the existing FEMA flood maps for your area. They are bitmap scans and can be printed as hard copy only. For those looking for a digital copy, there is only one source and that's on www.thecharlestonmap.com, you can find the reference by clicking HERE. Look under "Interactive GIS Maps" and tick "FEMA Flood Zones."
- Preliminary Products (236) - These are the new ones of real interest - more later.
- Historic Products (20) - for the historian of general academic among us.
Preliminary Products are based on a 2003 study and affect all of the Tri-County Area. These are the proposed new digital maps with some amendments from the current ones. Of interest to us are the ones for Charleston County and there are quite a few of them to cover. As luck would have it those government types are no fools and have produced a reference guide or MAP Index showing which Flood Insurance Rate Maps cover what areas. Download Part 1 and Part 2, covering Charleston County. Digital Maps for your specific location can then be downloaded using the link HERE.
Now these new maps have been published by FEMA in a public consultation process. Some zones have changed since the 1970's and additionally the flood height for compliance has changed as recently as 2015 so our advice is to examine the map for your area or where you are looking to buy, build or sell and do not take past experience for granted. Public consultation is a two way process and you are able to contact FEMA directly as they are currently soliciting just this type of input. Be very careful though of the temptation to try and downgrade your risk zone. An unfortunate neighborhood in Columbia did exactly that with success some years back then experienced severe flooding in the catastrophic flood event of 2015. No one had adequate flood insurance and they lost everything. "Be careful what you wish for" would seem appropos.
Flood Zones are there for our protection and are part of daily life in the Lowcountry. New homes in the Charleston area are now built at a height resistant to flooding. Try to find properties in "X" Zones or at a good elevation in "AE" Zones. Build to code in the zones and all will be good, but make sure you can park your car elsewhere when severe weather threatens and flooding is predicted.
Note: Part of our responsibilities as builders and Realtors in the Charleston real estate market are to help educate current residents as well as prospective buyers as to how the flood issues and current flood zones affect them. To that end, we created The Charleston Map to help you understand what it means and to identify those properties at the highest and least risk of flooding. Find out more about how to navigate the interactive layers of the map and the variety of map data available.