Flood Protection Information
KNOW YOUR FLOOD HAZARD
Galveston is completely surrounded by water with Galveston Bay to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The city’s proximity to the water makes it vulnerable to flooding from a variety of sources. The following is a list of the different types of storms that can affect Galveston:
- Flash flood – a local flood of short duration resulting from heavy rainfall in the immediate vicinity
- Storm surge – the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides
- Tropical cyclone – an organized weather system with a closed circulation that forms over warm tropical waters
- Tropical storm – a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph
- Hurricane – an intense tropical cyclone with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher
All of these types of storms have the potential to cause major damage to Galveston. Recent storm events caused significant damage to the city such as Hurricane Ike in 2008 when several homes were flooded from water invading their downstairs enclosures. A 22-foot storm surge inundated Galveston where several homes were flooded from water invading their downstairs enclosures. Hurricane Harvey, in 2017, caused flooding in the Strand when water backed up in the streets.
Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are issued by FEMA to identify different levels of flood risks. FIRMs are primarily used for flood insurance purposes, but they also provide a basis for Galveston to regulate development within those areas. The location of a property relative to certain flood zones indicates what restrictions may be placed on new and substantially improved construction. It’s also important to know where you live in relation to the floodplain so you know your level of risk. Contact the Galveston Building Division at 409-797-3620 or visit the 4th floor of City Hall located at 823 Rosenberg to see the current FEMA FIRM (December 6, 2002) to find out which flood zone you live in and what kind of risk you are facing. The City uses a GIS-based map that includes the effective FIRM and other flood-related information. You can view the City’s GIS flood maps.
FEMA and its contractors are in the process of updating the FIRMs for Galveston County. If you are interested in seeing how the current 2002 maps compare to the preliminary maps, visit the City’s GIS department.
INSURE YOUR PROPERTY
Regardless of what flood zone you’re in, you need flood insurance. Basic homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damages. Some people have purchased flood insurance because it was required by the bank or loan company when they obtained a mortgage or home improvement loan. Usually these policies just cover the building’s structure and not the contents. Call your insurance agent today to make sure your policy covers both structure and contents. There is a 30-day waiting period before a policy becomes effective, so don’t delay.
Galveston’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) allows for the purchase of flood insurance at a subsidized rate to anyone in the city, regardless of location or loss history. The city is also a part of the voluntary FEMA program known as the Community Rating System (CRS). The CRS program provides discounts to eligible citizens on their flood insurance premiums in exchange for the city implementing higher standards in floodplain management. Galveston has earned a class 7 rating in the CRS which means policyholders inside the FEMA floodplain receive 15% off their policyholders, while some eligible policyholders outside the FEMA floodplain can get a 5% discount (excluding Preferred Risk Policy areas in the X zone with no past damage). To find out more about flood insurance, how flood insurance rates are calculated, and other information, visit FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program
It is important to know the difference between a flood WATCH and a flood WARNING. A flash flood watch is flooding that is possible in your area. A flash flood warning is flooding that is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. The best time to make sure you are ready for the next storm event is before one is headed your way.
Most people are not aware that it only takes six inches of water for a car to become buoyant or for water to knock you off your feet and that drowning is the number one cause of flood related deaths. Protect yourself from the dangers of flood water by obeying barriers and barricades. Do not drive in areas that you know have a tendency to flood. If city officials tell you to evacuate, follow their orders and leave immediately. Shut off the electricity and all gas appliances before you evacuate. Know the evacuation procedures for a flood, and prepare a family evacuation plan. Designate a place where your family can meet after an evacuation order is issued.
Visit the City of Galveston Office of Emergency Management and Galveston Storm Preparation for more information and tips on annual preparations, when a storm is in the Gulf, how to protect your property, and other storm-related topics.
You can also find helpful information such as evacuation routes and safety tips in the Hurricane Preparedness Guide.
Stay connected to the City of Galveston before, during, and after a flood by signing up for the City’s One Call Reaches All for emergency message notifications and other pertinent messages.
The Tides and Currents Map that is linked to the City’s GIS provides information on tidal gages around the city.
Click on any of the active stations to see real-time water levels. You can also view the National Storm Surge Inundation Maps to see how storm surge levels in each hurricane category could affect Galveston, NOAA's extreme water levels at specific sites such as Pier 21, and NOAA’s tide predictions map for more information on the tidal hazard that could potentially impact the city.
PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY
Rather than wait for a flood to occur, you can act now to protect your property from flood damage. Even if you’ve never flooded before, in the life of a 30-year mortgage, there is a 26% chance of experiencing a flood if a property is located in the floodplain. Various retrofitting techniques are available to help minimize flooding such as elevating the building, constructing barriers out of fill or concrete, and floodproofing to make the building watertight. Because of Galveston’s susceptibility to hurricanes and tropical storms, measures that protect against high winds such as storm shutters or reinforced garage doors should also be considered. Download the Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting: Six Ways to Protect Your Home from Flooding (PDF) from the FEMA online library for information on permanent retrofitting measures for your home. Pick up a hard copy of the “Texas Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Natural Hazards” available for the public in the Building Division located on the 4th floor at City Hall in Galveston. The handbook discusses several methods of dry floodproofing a structure for flood prevention including installing watertight shields over doors, windows, and other openings, as well as applying a waterproof coating or membrane to the exterior walls of the building. The Galveston Building Division can provide advice to homeowners on which retrofitting or flood protection technique is right for you and your structure. Visit the Building Division at 823 Rosenberg or contact city staff by calling 409-797-3620 to learn other ways to safeguard your structure.
Protecting your property also means protecting the waterways around your property to decrease the chances of flooding. The City of Galveston Public Works Department works hard to keep its open channels and canals cleaned and maintained so they can function properly in a storm event. It is illegal in Galveston to dump any type of debris into a canal or drainage ditch. Debris can become entangled in culverts and streambeds, and impede drainage causing the flow of water to back up. Homeowners with overgrown ditches are encouraged to contact the city for assistance in keeping their drainage easements clean and free of debris. Citizens should do their part to keep ditches free of debris, and to discourage grass clippings, oil, and other contaminants from invading storm sewer inlets. Debris dumping should be reported to the Public Works Department at 409-797-3630.
All development in the Galveston floodplain requires a permit per the City’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance. Development includes, but is not limited to, all new construction, grading, and paving. Substantially damaged or improved structures, where the cost of repair (regardless of the cause of damage) or improvements to a structure equals or exceeds 50% of the building’s market value, also require building permits and elevation certificates, and are held to the same standards as new construction. Materials below the base flood elevation must be water-resistant, and enclosures can only be used for parking, storage, or access. Before you do any kind of work to your structure in the floodplain, call David Ewald, the Building Official at 409-797-3620, go to the 4th floor of City Hall at 8232 Rosenberg, or visit the Building Division to see if a permit is needed. Any development in the floodplain without a permit is illegal, such as constructing berms and other barriers that divert water onto other properties, and such activity should be reported to the Building Division. You can also visit the Citizen Access Portal to report any violations.
PROTECT NATURAL FLOODPLAIN FUNCTIONS
Floodplains provide a wide range of benefits to human and natural systems. They serve as flood storage and conveyance, and reduce flood velocities and flood peaks. Water quality is improved through the soil and vegetation’s ability to filter out nutrients and impurities from runoff and process organic wastes. Floodplains and wetlands provide breeding and feeding grounds for fish and wildlife, create and enhance waterfowl habitat, and protect habitats for rare and endangered species. They provide open space, aesthetic pleasure, and areas for active uses such as parks, playgrounds, and ball fields.
The City of Galveston has regulations in place to protect some areas of natural floodplain functions such as the dunes and wetlands. The Galveston Erosion Response Plan, in coordination with the Texas General Land Office, identified areas that need more maintenance so they can continue to serve the floodplain areas and the recreational needs of the public. The sand dunes and wetlands are particularly at risk since they provide habitats for the island’s various wildlife. Wetlands and other critical areas can be viewed on the City’s GIS department.
Click on the layer list at the top right to turn on the wetlands layer and see the different types as defined by the National Inventory of Wetlands. Visit the Galveston Bay Estuary Program to find out how to do your part to protect Galveston Bay.