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"Flood Amnesia" Cured by Public Education

OTTAWA, IL - Ottawa, Illinois, is located in a beautiful valley at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers. But it is this location that has caused the City to suffer significant damage from floods.

Ottawa has had significant flooding in an area of the town known as “The Flats,” where floodwaters have reached 8 to 10 feet on a fairly regular basis due to flood events in 1974, 1982, 1983, 1996, 1997, 2007, 2008 (a record flood), and 2009. However, almost no damage was recorded after the flood of March 2009 due to mitigation and flood control efforts taken by the City.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) encourages communities to participate in the Community Rating System (CRS), which was initiated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reward communities that are doing more to prevent or reduce flood losses than the minimum requirements of the NFIP. By participating in the program, communities are better equipped to handle flood events because certification requires them to establish flood control measures that ultimately protect people and property. Not only do the risks for residents decrease by a community's participation in this program, but the costs for flood insurance can be dramatically reduced by a good rating (from 5 to 45% discounts). The rating system runs from Class 1 to Class 10, with a Class 1 being the highest or best rating available. Ottawa joined as a Class 5 community in October 2010. By achieving this rating, the City helped secure discounts of 25% on flood insurance policies for its residents.

To receive a CRS rating, credit is given for a variety of community flood protection activities. The activities are divided into four categories: Public Information; Mapping and Regulations; Flood Damage Reduction; and Flood Preparedness.

Some of the City's public information activities included holding outreach meetings in conjunction with FEMA public meetings; forming a Flood Commission composed of staff and residents that held sessions with experts on many topics dealing with flood control and the impacts of flooding; and developing a website with flood information.

Mapping and regulatory activities included zoning, stormwater management, and floodplain development with higher standards than those in other communities to ensure that new development meets and exceeds flood standards for protection.

Ottawa's flood damage reduction activities included acquiring and relocating floodprone buildings out of the floodplain. From 1998 to 2010, the City acquired approximately 60 Repetitive Loss Properties (RLPs) in “The Flats” area. FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds were used to purchase them. The City is working to purchase eight more of the properties and, if successful, only three RLPs will remain in the entire City.

Flood preparedness received much attention from the City. Early warning systems are in place and utilize the City of Ottawa’s Emergency Notification System (CENS).

Last updated June 3, 2020