Bloomsburg is subject to a significant flood hazard. Since the record flood of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, we have been flooded on the average every five years. As part of its effort to save you money from flood damage and reduce your flood insurance premiums, the Town of Bloomsburg is implementing a variety of flood protection activities, but there are also some things that you can do. First, a review of the problem we’re faced with.
The floodplain in Bloomsburg was created by the Susquehanna River on the south and Fishing Creek on the north and west boundaries of the Town. Their levels rise and fall. When they rise above flood stage, they can cover up to 1/3 of the landmass within the Town’s boundaries.
The flood that has a 1% chance of occurring each year is called the “base” flood. The base flood is the basis for the Town’s regulations and the National Flood Insurance Program. The base floodplain is shown on the map on the other side. This mapped floodplain includes the town park, municipal airport, approximately 400 homes, the Bloomsburg Industrial Park and the Fairgrounds.
Floods on the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek can be caused by heavy rain, snowmelt or ice jams. On Fishing Creek they can come with little or no warning. Floods can stay up for several days, isolating areas and causing increased damage to property.
The official flood stage (where flooding starts to cause property damage) is reached when the water level at the Bloomsburg gage on the Route 487 bridge exceeds a stage of 19 feet. This equates to 470 feet above sea level. The base flood is reached at a stage of 28 feet, or 479 feet above sea level at Route 487. The base flood level is higher on Fishing Creek. See the Bloomsburg gage’s website for real time data.
The Town has experienced four floods higher than the base flood (28 feet): Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011 the flood level reached 32.75 feet. In March of 1904 with a stage of 32.7 feet, Hurricane Agnes in 1972 at 31.2 feet and the June 2006 event at 28.7 feet. The Town has also experienced other floods that came close to the base flood level: 27.8 feet in 1936 and 27.1 feet in 2004. Five floods since Hurrricane Agnes were over 23 feet: in 1979, 1984, 1993, 1996 and 2005. You can see that flooding is a frequent and serious problem in Bloomsburg.
What the Town is Doing
The Town of Bloomsburg is implementing several programs to reduce the impact of flooding. These include:
- We participate in the National Flood Insurance Program in order to make flood insurance available. We are one of only 28 communities in Pennsylvania in the Program’s Community Rating System, making insurance rates lower than for the rest of the state.
- We regulate new construction in the floodplain to make sure that it is protected from the base flood and won’t increase flood problems on other properties.
- The Public Works Department inspects and cleans the streets, channels and drainageways. Keeping them clear reduces the chances that blockages will cause flooding on adjacent properties.
- We have purchased and cleared repetitively flooded homes and are seeking funding to acquire more.
- We have purchased and installed an early warning siren system with voice message capabilities.
- We have drafted a flood hazard mitigation plan to identify additional activities that can be implemented.
What You Can Do
Third, several of the Town’s efforts depend on your cooperation and assistance. Here is how you can help:
- Do not dump or throw anything into the channels or drainageways. Even grass clippings and branches can accumulate and plug channels. A plugged channel cannot carry water and when it rains the water has to go somewhere. Every piece of trash contributes to flooding.
- You can do your part in helping the drainage system work. Sweep or pick up your gutters to prevent blockages in the storm sewers. Pick up trash and fallen branches in the ditches.
- If you see dumping or debris in the channels or drainageways, contact the Public Works Department at 570-784-2300.
- Always check with the Code Enforcement and Zoning Officer before you build on, alter, regrade, or fill on your property. A permit may be needed to ensure that projects do not cause problems on other properties.
- If you see building or filling without a permit sign posted, contact the Code Enforcement and Zoning Office at 570-784-7703.
Before the flood:
- Know the flood signals and procedures. The early warning siren with voice capabilities will be used to warn residents of impending severe weather and flooding conditions.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio receiver which provides 24 hour weather and warning information.
- Plan escape routes to high ground. Move vehicles to safe locations on higher ground before local roads are closed.
During the flood:
- Turn off water, gas and electric systems before leaving your home.
- Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. Use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there before you go through an area where the water is not flowing.
- Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Don’t drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out. If your vehicle stalls in high water, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground.
- Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to PPL Utilities at 1-800-342-5775.
- Keep children away from flood waters, ditches, culverts and storage ways or drains.
- Follow instructions by local officials, police, fire departments and other emergency workers.
After the flood:
- Clean everything that got wet. Flood waters have picked up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories, and storage buildings. Spoiled food, flooded cosmetics, and medicine can be health hazards. When in doubt, throw them out.
- Take good care of yourself. Recovering from a flood is a big job. It is tough on both the body and the spirit and the effects a disaster has on you and your family may last a long time. Keep your eyes open for signs of anxiety, stress, and fatigue in you and your family.
Floodproofing a house means altering it so floodwaters will not cause damage. Different floodproofing techniques are appropriate for different types of buildings. Use the following as a guideline:
- If you have a basement, split level, or other floor below ground level, there are lots of ways to protect your basement or lower floor from seepage and sewer backup.
- If your house is on a slab foundation, investigate a low floodwall, berm or “dry floodproofing” (i.e., making the walls watertight and closing all the openings when a flood comes).
- If your house is on a crawlspace or basement foundation, a low floodwall, berm or “wet floodproofing” will work. “Wet floodproofing” means moving all items subject to damage out of harm’s way so water can flow into the crawlspace or basement and not cause any problems. For a more effective measure, it is relatively easy to elevate the building to get the first floor above the flood level.
An excellent source for more information is Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting: (FEMA Publication 312). It can be read at the Bloomsburg Public Library (225 Market Street), ordered (for free) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency by calling 800-480-2520.
No matter what kind of building you have, some last minute emergency measures can always help. For example, you could move valuable items (photos, antiques, and other “irreplaceables” etc.) or items that are most damaged by floodwaters (upholstered furniture, stuffed toys, mattresses, etc.) up to a higher level. You can place sandbags or plastic sheeting in front of doorways and other low entry points. Whatever emergency protection measures you use, it is always best to have a plan written in advance to make sure you don’t forget anything after you hear the flood warning. Keep in mind the flood safety hints in the preceding section. The Red Cross has some additional suggestions.
Flood insurance is highly recommended because no floodproofing measure is 100% foolproof. Most homeowners insurance policies do not cover a property for flood damage. Because the Town of Bloomsburg participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, local insurance agents can sell flood insurance under rules and rates set by the Federal government. Any agent can sell a policy and all agents must charge the same rates.
Any house in Bloomsburg can be covered by a flood insurance policy. Detached garages and accessory buildings are covered under the policy for the lot’s main building. There are two types of coverage which can be purchased separately:
- Structural coverage covers everything that stays with a house when it is sold, including the furnace, cabinets, built-in appliances, and wall-to-wall carpeting.
- Contents coverage covers furniture and other personal possessions except for money, valuable papers, and the like. Renters can buy contents coverage, even if the owner does not buy structural coverage on the building.
There is no coverage for things outside the house, like the driveway and landscaping. If you have a policy, check it closely. You may only have structural coverage (because that’s all that banks require).
Don’t wait for the next flood to buy insurance protection. There is a 30 day waiting period before National Flood Insurance coverage takes effect. Contact your insurance agent for more information on rates and coverage.
For more information on flood insurance, see their website.
Pennsylvania Insurance Department website
Note for insurance agents: The Code Enforcement and Zoning Officer has copies of FEMA Elevation Certificates on buildings built in the floodplain during the last 10 years. To see if an elevation certificate is available for a particular property, contact us at 570-784-7703.
Flood Protection Regulations
New buildings in the floodplain must be protected from flood damage. Our building code requires that new residential buildings must be elevated 1½ feet above the base flood level.
The ordinance also requires that all substantial improvements to a building be treated as a new building. A substantial improvement is when the value of an addition, alteration, repair or reconstruction project exceeds 50% of the value of the existing building. In the case of an addition, only the addition must be protected. In the case of an improvement to the original building, the entire building must be protected.
For example, if a house in the floodplain is flooded, has a fire, is hit by a tornado, or is otherwise damaged so that the cost of repairs is more than 50% of the value of the building before the damage, then the house must be elevated above the base flood level. The substantial damage requirements are explained in more detail in Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings.
These regulations are designed to protect you and your neighbors. By keeping the drainage system clear and getting the proper permits before you build, we can prevent flooding and other drainage problems.