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A car sits in partially frozen water on Front Street while city crews work in the background on Feb. 12, 2017. At left is one of the pumps used to send water back to the Humboldt River channel.
“Flooding is unpredictable,” is the opening sentence on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood maps webpage.
Although we never know when a flood might sweep over us, FEMA does have maps of much of the country giving a general idea of the flood risk of each parcel of property.
FEMA has released preliminary updated flood maps for parts of Elko County. The maps update the level of flood risk along the Humboldt River, East Adobe, Charlie and Harper creeks, and the Woodland Drain and its tributaries.
“These new maps will help building officials, contractors and homeowners make effective mitigation decisions, thereby contributing to safer and more disaster resilient communities,” a FEMA press release said.
This flood map of the City of Elko is on the FEMA website.
If people object to any changes proposed in the new preliminary flood maps, they can appeal to FEMA through March 21, 2022.
“Residents or businesses with supporting technical and scientific information, such as detailed hydraulic or hydrologic data, can appeal the flood risk information on the preliminary maps, which can be viewed at,” the FEMA press release said.
Updating the maps
The flooding in Elko County in February 2017 highlighted the flood risk in some areas of the county.
FEMA hires consultants and engineers who work on updating flood maps throughout the country. Bob Thibault, a civil engineer for the City of Elko, said the updated maps for Elko County which are coming out now have been in the planning stages for a while.
“I think it was underway or at least planned before the 2017 flood,” Thibault said. “They may have used information from that storm event, but they also did some of their own studies and surveys, and ran some new calculations.”
FEMA is actually supposed to update flood maps every five years, but it takes them longer than that, Elko County Planning Technician Peggy Pierce-Fitzgerald said.
A study released by the Association of State Floodplain Managers in January 2020 said if the country would invest billions of dollars into making flood maps of the entire country and keeping the maps updated, the investment would more than pay for itself in savings from avoided flood damage. However, many rural areas of the country do not have flood maps, and many flood maps are quite old.
The current flood maps for Elko County were released by FEMA on Sept. 4, 2013.
Look for the “X”
Areas with a minimal hazard of flooding are classified on the FEMA maps as flood zone “X.”
“The majority of Elko County is in a flood zone X,” Pierce-Fitzgerald said. “That’s what you want to be in.”
ELKO — Just over a year ago, Elko County experienced widespread flooding that resulted in extensive damage and disaster declarations.
An area labeled flood zone A has a higher risk of flooding. New construction in areas with a known flood risk must meet certain requirements.
“If people build in a special flood hazard area they’re going to have to raise their finished floor up higher, and they have to put more venting in their foundation walls,” Pierce-Fitzgerald said.
Some properties are labeled AE, Pierce-Fitzgerald said, which means an elevation for construction has been set by FEMA.
“North of the Elburz exit, those have a determined base flood elevation, so you would see an AE,” Pierce-Fitzgerald said.
FEMA defines high risk flood areas as any place with a one percent or higher chance of experiencing a flood in any given year. That means those areas have at least a one-in-four chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage. That’s why many mortgage companies require flood insurance for properties in flood hazard areas.
If you want to check the flood hazard status of your property, maps are available on the FEMA website,, but it can be hard to use these maps to determine the status of your property. There are insurance websites like where you can enter your address to get flood hazard information. Maybe the best way to check on your property is to contact your local planning department.
“If people have questions, call me,” Pierce-Fitzgerald said. “I have to have an assessor’s parcel number to pull it up on a map, and then I can tell them what zone they’re in.”
“I have hard copies of the maps here, and people are welcome to get in touch with me, come down to my office and view them,” Thibault said.
ELKO – If you looked at your insurance bill and saw that the payment due for homeowner insurance is higher, you can probably blame the skyrock…
“There are a lot of homes in town that were built long before flood maps existed,” Thibault said. “They are within flood plains, they are not necessarily above flood elevations, and that’s what we saw in 2017. All those houses were in known flood hazard areas, and it’s expected that those areas will flood from time to time.
“People need to be aware of that sort of thing, and obtain insurance if possible.”

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It started a year ago today.
A car sits in partially frozen water on Front Street while city crews work in the background on Feb. 12, 2017. At left is one of the pumps used to send water back to the Humboldt River channel.
This flood map of the City of Elko is on the FEMA website.
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