ITHACA, N.Y.—As a special topic of interest following this year’s ice jams and flooding and FEMA’s revised flood maps, Sustainable Tompkins’ most recent panel focused on what to do if your property falls within a major flood zone and how to properly insure it. The whole discussion can be viewed here.

Presentations included basic information about the increased risk of flooding in Ithaca as well as the revised flood maps and what they mean, flood insurance and its caveats and basic flood mitigation.

Scott Doyle, former associate planner for the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability, discussed New York State’s estimation that precipitation will increase between 4 to 10% by the 2050s and 6 to 14% by the 2080s.

Over the past 50 years, he said, mitigation work has shown about $23 million in damages associated with major flood events — looking forward, with the 1% annual chance of flooding in Tompkins County, the financial risk is more than $300 million in potential residential, commercial and industrial property losses, and the county has more than a thousand properties with this risk.

Downtown Ithaca’s flood risk map.

Vice President Account Executive at Tompkins Insurance Sally Hoyt’s presentation focused on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), local insurance options and how individuals in the risk zones can best protect themselves and their properties.

“Of the 22,000 communities insured by the NFIP, many have not been remapped since they were initially evaluated in the early 1970s and 80s, including a majority of land in the Finger Lakes. We are at a point now where so much construction has occurred and so many building developments that it’s certainly changed where water’s running and the topography,” Hoyt said.

The NFIP has changed its rating format that has resulted in differentiating building levels and allowing for a more equitable flood insurance rate methodology. Instead of basements being used in the ratings, first floor components are now considered.

The three most important items utilized to assess a risk rating is the distance of a structure from a flooding source, including the elevation of the building’s ground and whether the structure is obtaining a Community Rating System discount; how the building’s occupancy and type will be used (for example if whether the building is a residential home or a commercial building with five or more units; and what the building replacement cost would be, along with coverage for its contents and any deductibles that apply separately.

Discounts now consider the elevation of the first floor in relation to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), how flood vents can be installed, whether equipment in the building is elevated at least one floor above the first floor, and the likelihood of the floor being damaged by flooding.

Alan Springett, a hydrologist and flood expert, emphasized the importance of knowing the flood vulnerability at your property in a risk zone and laid out easy steps to assess.

Looking at local vegetation, particularly around lawns, any depressions that may run along a building’s foundation and determining if there are any stains across basement walls are good places to start.

Springett said that “‘RID,’ which stands for ‘reviewing flood vulnerabilities,’ ‘ informing your family about requirements and mitigation efforts’ to ‘defend against floods and water infiltration’” can help remind individuals how to protect themselves.

Local development (including logging or storage in flood plains) may impact runoff, so reviewing flood and erosion control structures can better prepare the area for deterioration that may inevitably occur.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is the digital editor/reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Joining in November 2021, she has covered a wide range of topics related to local news. She can be reached at,...