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Skip Navigation LinksDNREC : News : Delaware communities adopt higher standards for building in a floodplain

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Contact:  Melanie Rapp, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902; 

Delaware communities adopt higher standards
for building in a floodplain

New FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps effective in all counties

DOVER (April 8, 2015) – Communities across Delaware have adopted new regulations that set higher standards for building in a floodplain, or high risk flood zone. The regulations were adopted by communities as a result of the release of new Delaware Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and in conjunction with Senate Bill 64 that recommended more protective flood damage reduction standards for local governments to use. The FIRMs include updates to floodplain boundaries that are used to establish flood insurance rates for properties within a floodplain and for communities and municipalities to enforce local floodplain ordinances.

“Inland and coastal communities throughout Delaware are experiencing chronic and nuisance flooding from severe weather, coastal storms, rising sea levels and climate change that is costing millions of dollars in property damage for residents and business owners,” said DNREC Secretary David Small. “I commend our communities for adopting more protective building standards that will protect lives, minimize property damage from flooding and improve the resiliency of our homes and buildings.”

Delaware is especially vulnerable from flooding. More than 331 square miles or 17 percent of Delaware’s land mass are within a mapped high risk flood zone, including more than 18,000 structures statewide.

All of the 48 Delaware communities that participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program have updated their floodplain regulations that pertain to all new development and substantially-improved structures in special flood hazard areas. As a result of more accurate FIRMs, most of the communities chose to incorporate additional best practices that are more protective than the federal regulations. DNREC worked with each community to develop a compliant ordinance that was adopted prior to the release of the FIRMs.

Forty communities added freeboard, or additional feet of elevation above expected flood levels (as shown on FIRMs), to their flood codes. Including a freeboard requirement pays huge dividends – by increasing public safety, protecting property and reducing rates for flood insurance premiums. A total of 21 communities chose 18 inches of freeboard, while 17 communities adopted 12 inches. The Town of Ocean View requires 2 feet of freeboard, and the Town of Henlopen Acres has retained its 3-foot freeboard requirement.

DNREC’s Division of Watershed Stewardship has partnered with FEMA to improve the accuracy of flood insurance rate maps through a Cooperating Technical Partnership. The improved FIRMs incorporate new coastal storm surge modeling completed by FEMA and the results of more than 200 miles of watershed studies completed by DNREC. The maps provide more accurate flood risk identification and are the basis for the higher local flood damage reduction standards, which many communities have adopted.

FEMA released the updated Kent County FIRMs last year, on July 7, 2014. The New Castle County maps were released this year on February 4, and Sussex County FIRMs became effective on March 16. The maps are available online at

FIRMs show the high-risk areas where there is at least a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. Mortgage lenders require borrowers whose properties are located in special flood hazard areas to purchase flood insurance through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program as a condition of receiving a federally-backed mortgage loan. The maps also show the low- or moderate-risk areas where flood insurance is optional, but recommended.

For more information, visit DNREC’s website,

Vol. 45, No. 97

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