Water model project highlights safety and partnerships

Water model project highlights safety and partnerships

  • FCD Flood Sim Model
  • Maricopa County Flood Control District STEM display
Flood Control District of Maricopa County created a model to highlight flooding issues

Flooding is an expensive hazard that has affected the Grand Canyon state for decades. During the 1970’s, there were 17 state declarations of emergency related to flooding, costing close to $4 million in repairs.  Arizona received more than $217 million in federal funds from 6 federally declared flooding disasters

Given the financial impact of flooding, the state and counties work collaboratively to prepare, protect, and educate communities about their flood risk. 

One of the most serious floods in Arizona happened in early 1993. A high amount of precipitation fell across the state in late 1992 and continued into January and February of the following year.  More than 16 storms affected the region which led to expansive flooding and damaged homes, businesses, roads, bridges, crops and more.

“The floods resulted in a declaration that included 12 of the 15 counties,” explained Wendy Smith Reeve, Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Deputy Director. “Maricopa County and the flood control areas were significantly affected by that event. Total costs for the entire event were $150 million.”  As a result of the extensive damage, the Flood Control District of Maricopa County (FCD) and other entities developed systems to withstand the impacts of major flooding events.

When a tropical storm combined with several days of monsoon storms hit in September 2014, roads and homes were flooded once more, but not to the extent that it would have if the prior mitigation systems had not been developed.

With a desire to continue upgrading and improving the systems in place, the FCD came up with a project idea to help alert the community about potential flood hazards, as well as ways to further educate community members about flooding.

Kelli A. Sertich, FCD’s Policy, Planning & Coordination Branch Manager explained the idea behind the project. “Years ago, the Division that does the floodplain use permits was looking for a way to help demonstrate to the public how things obstruct the flow of water (different types of fences, building berms on property, etc.).  We couldn't always be out in storms taking video to then show people, so we decided to look at building a model that could demonstrate the scenarios. After the flooding in 2014, we pursued grant funds to buy the off-the-shelf model, work with ASU to build a custom model, and work othe web application.”

FCD applied for money from the State of Arizona’s Governor’s Emergency Fund, which holds $4,000,000 each year for declared disasters and hazard mitigation projects. The State Emergency Council, comprised of representatives from multiple state agencies, including DEMA, provides recommendations to the Governor where the money from that fund should be allocated.

DEMA holds two seats on the council. The council reviews projects that request funding, and administers the state public assistance program for declared emergencies, supporting impacted jurisdictions in mitigation and recovery.

“At the end of the fiscal year, the State Emergency Council allocates the balance of the Governor’s Emergency Fund to potential mitigation projects,” explains Erik Anderson, DEMA’s Mitigation Project Specialist.  “They choose as many viable projects as possible; a county may build up the slope near a river that consistently floods the community, reshape the flow of water, or create an educational campaign to share with the community.”

Maricopa County’s two-part project included an expansion of the Automated Flooded Roadway Warning Assemblies (ALERT) Flood Warning System to enhance automated flood detection system. The ALERT Flood Warning System covers 11,800 square miles. The additions (at a price of just under $84,000) allow the public to receive more timely and accurate warnings.

The system monitors and operates flood control structures and monitors (low-flow) water crossing roadways. The system collects data and alarms are activated (warning lights flash in area and the county is notified) with heavy water flow.

The second part of the project was education-based with a water simulation model and video game. The $12,000 project allowed FCD to demonstrate (in the community) how water flows in certain areas and how various terrains, conditions, and obstructions change a watercourse and contribute to flooding. The model has functions that can be changed, scenarios that can be altered, and rain levels controlled to allow people to understand better flooding. The video game replicates the model with expanded scenarios, allowing the public to see how potential development could affect their property and land.

The county collaborated with Arizona State University (ASU) to research data and build the simulation model.

“We were able to work with a graduate student at ASU in their sustainable engineering program. Working with this student was a learning experience for both parties. The student was able to learn more about flooding issues and we were able to learn how to coordinate with a student outside of an internship setting,” Sertich said. “We left the process up to the student to work with his professors on the design approach for the product.  He developed the model in a method we had not originally thought of, which allows for the model to be flexible and added to over time.”

The model has already been used at multiple outreach events, including a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) night at an elementary school.

Sertich is happy with the output so far. “Education is the first step in mitigation efforts and allows the public to understand how flooding can occur and how you might increase or decrease your own chances through development. We will continue to make the physical models available to be checked out for meetings and demonstrations. The ability to be hands-on helps residents see their role in mitigation.”

Once selected, a member of DEMA’s Infrastructure group coordinated a Kickoff meeting with the FCD to review the project, explain how to track costs, go over the Scope of Work, and answer questions.

As the project progressed, DEMA checked in occasionally and was available for any questions the county had. DEMA then wrapped up the project with a final inspection by gathering all the documentation needed to turn in a final audit report.

Anderson promotes the importance of mitigation projects, like the one in Maricopa County. “Good projects have the potential of saving life and property and also millions of dollars in emergency funds from events that repeat on a yearly basis.”