This page advises state, tribal, territorial, and local officials on FEMA’s regulatory and procedural requirements for showing the area affected by a flood risk reduction system on Flood Insurance Rate Maps as Zone AR, when result from the new non-accreditation status of a previously accredited levee system that is determined to be in the process of being restored to provide flood risk reduction from the 1-percent-annual-chance flood.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) develops and enforces regulatory and procedural requirements for levee systems that are being constructed for the first time or that are being restored or modified to provide hazard reduction at least to the 1-percent-annual-chance flood.
Communities, state, tribal, territorial or federal agencies may restore the flood risk reduction capability of existing levee systems to address flood hazards and reduce flood risks in a particular community or a particular area of a state. When such projects involve restoration of a levee system, a community may choose to submit the appropriate data and documentation to FEMA and request that FEMA make a “flood protection restoration” determination. Requirements and criteria are cited in Section 65.14 of Title 44, Chapter 1, of the Code of Federal Regulations (“the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations), the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-89), and in FEMA Guidance and Standards.
Risks Associated with Levee Systems
It is vital for individuals to understand the risks associated with living or working in levee-impacted areas and the steps they can take to mitigate these risks. Everyone should understand that even the best flood risk reduction system cannot completely eliminate the risk of flooding. Levee systems are designed to provide a specific level of risk reduction, and larger flood events can cause levees to be overtopped or fail. Levee systems also decay and deteriorate over time, so regular maintenance and periodic upgrades are needed to ensure a levee retains its level of risk reduction and continues to perform as designed. When levee systems do fail, the resulting damage, including loss of life, may be more significant than if the levee system had not been built.
Zone AR Overview
Zone AR is a flood hazard zone designation that is used by FEMA to identify flood insurance risk premium rates on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), where a flood hazard reduction system (i.e., levee system) that had previously been credited with providing a 1-percent-annual-chance or greater level of flood hazard reduction has been found to no longer provide adequate hazard reduction.
The “A” denotes that the area is a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA); the “R” denotes that restoration of a levee system to a 1-percent-annual-chance level of flood hazard reduction is underway. The SFHA (also known as the high-hazard area) is the area that will be inundated by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood, which is also referred to as the base flood. The Zone AR designation replaces the Zone B or Zone X (shaded) flood hazard zone designation that previously appeared on the effective FIRM. The Zone AR designation indicates that the increased flood hazard is considered temporary.
To apply for the “flood protection restoration” designation, a community must participate in the NFIP and must meet the eligibility and application requirements of Section 65.14 of the NFIP regulations.
A community may be eligible to apply for the Zone AR designation if the community is engaged in the process of restoring a flood risk reduction system that was as follows:
- Recognized as providing 1-percent-annual-chance flood risk reduction on the effective FIRM.
- Decertified by a Federal agency responsible for flood control structure design or construction
To apply for the Zone AR designation, the community must submit a formal written request signed by the community Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or designee to FEMA, along with a detailed restoration plan and the other supporting information and documentation listed in Section 65.14 of the NFIP regulations.
FEMA will not initiate any action to designate Zone AR areas without receiving a formal request from the community that complies with the requirements of Section 65.14.
Benefits for Communities
The determination process helps eligible communities establish a plan for restoring the previous level of flood risk reduction in a levee-impacted area with the assurance that a restoration project, if constructed as planned, will result in the eventual removal of the SFHA designation from the levee-impacted area. The Zone AR designation is intended to encourage communities to expeditiously restore the previous level of flood risk reduction to people and structures in levee-impacted areas.
Benefits for Property Owners
A “flood protection restoration” determination may result in significantly lower flood insurance premium rates for insurable structures than the rates for insurable structures in other SFHAs. Elevation requirements for properties that will be exposed to an increased risk of flooding during the restoration period also may be reduced, relative to the requirements in other SFHAs.
Effective Time Period for Zone AR Designation
The period of restoration, during which the Zone AR designation will remain on a FIRM, is not to exceed 10 years. The community can have the Zone AR designation only once while restoring the flood control system.
Removing the Zone AR Designation from a FIRM
The Zone AR designation can be removed if the following occurs:
- The restoration project meets the milestones for “adequate progress” specified in Section 61.12 of the NFIP regulations and requirements in Section 19 of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, Pub. L. 113-89, Section 19 (2014), 42 U.S.C. §4014 (e), community officials submit data and documentation to the FEMA Regional Office to request an “adequate progress” determination, and the FEMA Regional Office issues an “adequate progress” determination for the project. In such cases, FEMA will change the flood insurance risk zone designation for the levee-impacted area from Zone AR to Zone A99.
- A community submits certification to FEMA that the project has been completed and FEMA confirms that the completed project provides adequate hazard reduction to the 1-percent-annual-chance flood. In such cases, FEMA will change the flood hazard zone designation for the levee-impacted area from Zone AR to Zone X (shaded).
- The community fails to comply with its restoration plan or FEMA determines that satisfactory progress is not being made toward completing a federally funded restoration project. In such cases, FEMA will change the flood hazard zone designation for the levee-impacted area from Zone AR to Zone A or Zone AE, depending on the type of engineering study that was performed for the flooding source.
The Difference Between a Zone AR and a Zone A99 Determination
Typically, a Zone A99 designation will have lower flood insurance rates and reduced floodplain management requirements than a Zone AR designation. To change a Zone AR designation to a Zone A99 designation, the community must submit a written application documenting that certain project financing considerations and project construction milestones have been met. More information on requesting a Zone A99 designation can be found on the Levee System Construction & Restoration Projects: Adequate Progress (Zone A99) Requirements.
Requirements to Maintain the Zone AR Designation
The community and the cost-sharing Federal agency, if any, must annually certify to the FEMA Regional Office that the system will be restored within the timeframe stipulated in the restoration plan. When necessary, the community must submit an updated restoration plan identifying any permitting or construction problems that may delay completion of the project.
Impact on New Construction
The elevation requirements for new construction in the areas designated as Zone AR are not exactly the same as the requirements in other SFHAs, and the requirements will vary based on whether the structure is inside or outside the designated “developed area,” which is defined in Section 59.1 of the NFIP regulations. The minimum elevation required for new construction inside developed areas designated as Zone AR is either 3 feet above the highest adjacent grade (i.e., the highest natural elevation of the ground surface prior to construction next to the proposed walls of a structure) or the Zone AR Base Flood Elevation (BFE), whichever is lower, regardless of flood depth. The BFE is the elevation of the 1-percent-annual-chance flood.
In areas designated as Zone AR outside the designated developed area, the following elevation requirements apply (also as documented in Paragraph 60.3(f) of the NFIP regulations):
- If flood depths are less than 5 feet, the minimum elevation required for all new construction is 3 feet above the highest adjacent grade or the Zone AR BFE, whichever is lower.
- If flood depths exceed 5 feet, the minimum elevation required for all new construction is the Zone AR BFE. The elevation requirements for new construction are provided in Paragraph 60.3(f) of the NFIP regulations.
The purpose of the 3-foot elevation requirement is to reduce the flood risk to new construction during the levee restoration period. In addition, if the system is not restored, the 3-foot elevation reduces the flood risk to structures built while the Zone AR designation was in effect.
The Zone AR floodplain management criteria accommodate the needs of communities within developed areas through reduced elevation requirements for new construction while also recognizing that properties will be exposed to an increased flood risk during the restoration period. Without these floodplain management criteria in the Zone AR areas, participating communities would need to require that all new construction and substantially improved structures in these areas be elevated to the BFE. Therefore, in developed areas with flood depths of, for example, 7, 10, or 15 feet, and in areas outside the developed area where flood depths are less than 5 feet, the 3-foot elevation requirement represents a substantial reduction in elevation compared to what would otherwise be required.
Because of the increased flood hazrd to which properties will be exposed during the restoration period, the 3-foot elevation requirement in developed areas and other areas with flood depths of less than 5 feet will reduce damage to structures that would occur without the restoration of the flood control system. If the system is not restored, the 3-foot elevation requirement offers risk reduction to structures built while the Zone AR was in effect. The 3-foot elevation requirement may only provide minimal reduction of risk if the system fails completely; however, it may also provide hazard reduction from flood events that may exceed the capacity of the decertified system.
Impact on Existing Construction
For improvements (including substantial improvements) to existing structures, there are no elevation requirements inside or outside the designated developed areas.
Section 59.1 of the NFIP regulations defines substantial improvement as “any reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition, or other improvement of a structure, the cost of which equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the start of the construction of the improvement.” Under the minimum floodplain management requirements of the NFIP, new structures and substantially improved residential structures in NFIP-participating communities must be elevated to or above the BFE. New or substantially improved nonresidential structures must be elevated or dry floodproofed to or above the BFE.
Additional Flood Zones
Additional flood zones that may appear on a FIRM in an area impacted by a restoration project.
A dual flood zone (e.g., Zone AR/A1-30, AR/AE, AR/AH, AR/AO, AR/A) is shown on the FIRM if the following occurs:
- The levee-impacted area that is labeled as Zone AR is also subject to 1-percent-annual-chance flooding from a flooding source other than the source on the riverward side of the levee system that causes the Zone AR flooding; or
- Some residual 1-percent-annual-chance flooding from the flooding source that causes the Zone AR flooding will remain even after the restoration project is complete.
Dual Flood Zones
Dual flood zones are intended to inform current and future owners of existing and proposed structures in these areas that their structures are subject to a higher hazard of flooding while the restoration project is underway and may be subject to this higher flood hazard even after the restoration project has been completed. The dual zone designation helps homeowners, business owners, local officials, and other map users identify where floodplain management and flood insurance requirements will remain in force when the “AR” portion of the dual zone is removed.
Dual Flood Zone’s Impact on Existing Construction
Building requirements are different if the levee-impacted area has dual zones. For all new construction in a dual flood zone, structures must be elevated to a minimum of 3 feet above the highest adjacent grade, to the Zone AR BFE (depending on the flood depth and whether the site is inside or outside the developed area), or to the BFE associated with Zone AE, Zones A1-30, Zone AO, Zone AH or Zone A, whichever is higher. Substantial improvements to existing construction in a dual flood hazard zone must be elevated to the BFE in Zone AE, Zone A1-30, Zone AO, Zone AH, or Zone A.
Impact on Flood Insurance Requirements
The following flood insurance requirements apply in areas designated Zone AR on an effective FIRM:
- The mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.
- Several factors impact the flood insurance risk premium rate for a particular structure; however, the flood insurance premium rates for structures in Zone AR may be lower than the flood insurance risk premium rates for structures in other SFHAs.
For additional levee information and resources, visit the following websites:
Levee System and Construction Restoration Mapping Projects - Overview: Page highlights the requirements, responsibilities, and impacts of constructing or restoring levees.
Flood Protection Restoration: Zone AR Requirements Summary for State and Local Officials: Fact sheet provides information on FEMA regulatory and procedural requirements for adequate progress (Zone AR) determinations.
Levee System and Construction Restoration Mapping Projects - Adequate Progress (Zone A99): Page provides information on FEMA regulatory and procedural requirements for flood protection restoration (Zone A99) determinations.
Answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions are provided for the following user groups: homeowners, engineers, surveyors and architects, insurance professionals and lenders, and floodplain managers.
- Call 1-877-FEMA-MAP (1-877-336-2627) Monday through Friday, 8:00 am through 6:30 pm (Eastern Time)
- Chat with a Map Specialist Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (Eastern Time)
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