This is the second part of a series. To read the first part, click here.
Why did we have flooding where we’ve never seen it before? Is it because of new developments? When will low-lying areas dry out? Will development laws change to prevent this going forward? Our series addresses the many questions Ian and Nicole left us asking.
Development and an increase in impervious surfaces can play a role in flooding, but, per the county’s engineering staff, the answer to why areas in West Volusia experienced severe flooding after hurricanes Ian and Nicole is a lot more complicated.
Read More: Stormwater lingers — when will we dry out?
“A lot of people want to go right to development, but causation has a lot of variables with these storms,” Volusia County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer said.
Because they can’t stop development under the current laws, and can’t stop 500-year storms like Ian from happening, local governments are trying to work with the variables they can affect.
“There’s a lot we’ve learned with this year’s Atlantic hurricane season,” Kasbeer said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity … with what we do and how we build and how we grow and how we become more resilient. That word should mean something more to people after this season.”
A state solution?
Rather than passing new regulations at the local level, county officials said, it’s possible that the Florida Building Code could change in response to this year’s storms.
Or, with the effect of climate change on weather becoming more obvious, the St. Johns River Water Management District could change what constitutes a 100-year or a 25-year storm.
Those rule changes could pre-empt local decisions and might force developers — now tasked with building to withstand a 100-year storm — to meet more stringent regulations.
“I don’t foresee anything that would stop development from occurring,” Kasbeer said. “We always want to keep modifying our rules based on the continuing changes and different situations. That said, you are trying to balance development costs … If someone owns a house, it’s tough to tell them they need to put in a $3 million wall.”
Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District Chair Wendy Anderson thinks something could be done locally. After all, if storm events like Ian and Nicole are becoming more common, she said, the county needs to act now.
“Why would we not be planning and creating new regulations to combat this?”
Anderson asked. “This is the definition of adaptation and resilience: to recognize your new normal and make adjustments for it.”
In the meantime, not everyone has dried out. More than two months after the first hurricane, people like Common Ground Farms owners John and Pat Joslin are still struggling, as are others across Volusia County, to get their lives back on track.
By the time repairs are made and their farm gets back on track, the Joslins said, they will have spent thousands of dollars to replace soil that was inundated with water.
The Joslins and JC’s Bikes & Boards owner J.C. Figueredo, whose property is south of the farm, are considering legal action against Volusia County, the City of DeLand and developers of nearby housing developments for causing flooding on their property.
Speaking to the Volusia County Council Dec. 6, the Joslins made clear how dire their situation has been. They urged the county to consider purchasing a vacant piece of property adjacent to their farm to turn it into a retention pond to help mitigate any future extreme flooding along Taylor Road.
“If something does not change, we’re going to see more and more incidents like these,” John Joslin told the County Council. “They’ve been increasing over the years, which I’m afraid are going to lead to expensive litigation without any outcome of … real changes or improvements.
What about the beach?
Amazingly, no laws prohibit compromised structures from being rebuilt in the same locations. If buildings had damage to more than 50 percent of the structure, the new construction will be required to adhere to Florida’s current building code, County Information Director Kevin Captain said, but that code will not require that the structures be moved farther from the shoreline.
The Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District has a different idea.
“From a conservative perspective, it makes no sense to build in an area that costs us millions and millions of dollars,” Soil and Water Board Chair Wendy Anderson said.
See Noah Hertz’s story on the district board’s vote, click here.