INTERVIEW with Kimberly Bitters, Environmental Specialist
Division of Water
What do you do to support sustainable development in Ohio?
I work to enable local communities to balance the use of floodplains with the risk of flooding. Flooding is a natural process that causes problems when people and property are in the way! One of my primary duties is to review local flood safety regulations as part of the National Flood Insurance Program to help reduce flood damages. The requirement to update regulations periodically provides the perfect opportunity for Ohio communities to evaluate their flood risk and consider whether their current regulations will provide sufficient guidance to meet their future needs.
In other words, are we doing the right thing today, so that our communities and people can remain safe in future floods? To that end, we discuss a concept known as No Adverse Impact, which supports the proposition that individual development choices should not result in increased flood risks for others.
How do you help people understand flood risk?
Our program has a strong education and outreach approach, so I provide presentations on sustainable development strategies and regulatory tools to Regional Planning Commissions, land-use conferences, other state agencies and individual communities. Since the use and development decisions affecting floodplains are made locally, I help local officials understand their role.
To help people visualize where flooding is expected, I use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps or FIRMs. The FIRM panel below is for Ross County. The blue-lined areas indicate flood risk associated with the base flood and represent the regulatory floodplain. While FIRMs do not identify all areas that are prone to flooding, they do indicate differing levels of flood risk information according to different zones.
I also write articles for our newsletter and answer local floodplain manager questions about floodplain development. One of my articles can be found on page ten of our state newsletter.
How can flood risk be reduced?
Communities can enhance flood safety and reduce future damages by incorporating flood risk into planning activities. For instance, activities such as road design, utility placement and development of conservation areas can be modified to reduce flood risk. Other risk mitigation measures include relocating or elevating existing structures, updating drainage systems and maintaining or restoring vegetated areas along streams. We also encourage activities that can guide future development so that individual development choices do not result in increased flood risks for others.
Do you work with others or do you work alone?
It is essential that I work with others. Since the National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between federal, state and the local governments, I work closely with other agencies that are concerned about flood damage reduction and protection of natural floodplains. I rely on numerous agencies to collect a variety of information on flooding around the State including the United States Geological Survey, National Weather Service and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. My program has partnered with the Ohio Building Officials Association to support damage assessment after flood disasters, and I assist in these training efforts
What is most challenging about your job?
It is difficult to persuade people that the up-front investment of time and money needed to meet flood protection standards is actually cheaper than recovering from the flood! Socially and economically, we tend to make decisions based on “right now” and “what is my interest.” Flooding has longer-term impacts and many times it is difficult for citizens to see how a development in one area affects flooding or drainage in another. If Ohio communities are to become more sustainable and people are going to be safer during floods, we will need to take new approaches to balance flood risk and use of our floodplains.