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HWM Project Summary: Santa Rosa County, FL

This page highlights the Santa Rosa County, FL High Water Mark (HWM) Project which took place on December 9, 2014. See more High Water Mark case studies.

Community Profile:  Santa Rosa County, FL is a mostly rural community (1,174 square miles) with a population of 161,096. Given its location on the Gulf Coast, the community has a long history of flooding events. Flooding, however, does not just come from hurricanes and tropical storms. Santa Rosa County has numerous rivers, creeks, and streams running through it. The County is separated from Escambia County by the Escambia River, which is by far the largest of the rivers in the area. The Blackwater River, Yellow River, East Bay River, as well as Pond Creek and Big Coldwater Creek all factor into the riverine flooding in Santa Rosa County.

Flood History:  Santa Rosa County has experienced flooding from several hurricanes since 1871. Among the most severe were those of 1906, 1926, 1995, 2004, and 2005. While Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was Santa Rosa’s most significant hurricane of record, subsequent storms have ravaged the coastline, as well as inland areas from tropical rain events. Major riverine floods were recorded along the Blackwater River floodway, which flooded in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

Planned Flood Risk Mitigation:  Santa Rosa County has taken a proactive approach to flood risk mitigation. The Santa Rosa County Multi-Jurisdictional Flood Mitigation Plan was developed by the Santa Rosa County Flood Mitigation Task Force, a group composed of a broad spectrum of community stakeholders and county staff. Santa Rosa County, the City of Milton, the City of Gulf Breeze, and the Town of Jay also joined the Community Rating System (CRS) program to enhance local mitigation efforts and provide protection for local communities. Santa Rosa County has a CRS class 5 rating. Because of this rating, local citizens can receive up to 25 percent discounts on flood insurance rates. With the increased discounts, property owners in Santa Rosa County now save a combined $1.1 million each year on flood insurance premiums. This is an average additional savings of $51 per year per household.

The task force conducted meetings for six months analyzing and evaluating the community’s flood hazards and made a variety of recommendations for flood mitigation, one of which was increasing awareness about flood insurance. Other long term goals included elevating structures and lowering their CRS ranking from a class five to four.

HWM Project Activities

Santa Rosa County, FL, leveraged FEMA’s HWM Initiative to encourage citizens in low-risk areas to buy flood insurance at the low-cost Preferred Risk Policy (PRP) rate, as well as raise awareness about updates to FEMA flood maps (anticipated by 2016).

Santa Rosa County held an HWM Launch Event on December 8, 2014 with the support of the local flood mitigation task force, FEMA, and partner Federal agencies. These partners engaged in the planning and supported the launch event.

Santa Rosa County’s Community Floodplain Manager, Karen Thornhill, worked closely with FEMA Region IV to organize the event. Ms. Thornhill coordinated the design, development, and placement of HWM signs; she also led the coordination and organization of the HWM Launch Event. USACE, NOAA NWS, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and FEMA FloodSmart provided outreach support and participated in the event. The event was attended by many local, Regional, and State stakeholders, including:

  • Karen Thornhill (Santa Rosa County Floodplain Manager) and community staff;
  • W.D. "Don" Salter (Santa Rosa County Commissioner, District 3) and Rob Williamson (Santa Rosa County Commissioner, District 4);
  • City of Gulf Breeze and City of Milton representatives; and
  • Representatives from Regional and Federal partners such as the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), Florida Department of Environment (FL DEM), FEMA Headquarters, USACE, HUD, FEMA FloodSmart, and NOAA NWS.

Mitigation Action Update

The HWM Launch Event served as a reminder to residents about past flooding, but also allowed the community to relay the importance of purchasing flood insurance. Santa Rosa County unveiled a HWM sign at Navarre Beach State Park designed by the students from the Gulf Breeze High School Multimedia Academy.

As a result of the event, the sale of flood insurance policies increased by nine percent the first month of the campaign. Furthermore, the Community Floodplain Manager has conducted two additional HWM Launch Events in adjacent towns and plans to erect signs in a total of 15 locations around the community.

In 2015, Santa Rosa County participated in Community Outreach Activities regarding Floodplain Management and the NFIP, as well as Emergency Response Preparedness Activities on flood risk and insurance awareness. The county participated in the SAFER Santa Rosa Expo, conducted the annual Hurricane Exercise (flood recovery), provided all hazards presentations to numerous community groups, participated in workshops and expos on safety and resilience, and conducted Realtor/Lender/Agent workshops.

Resulting Media Coverage

The HWM Launch Event drew significant media coverage by local news channels and newspapers. For clips from the event visit