DEEP DIVE  

Escambia County’s Flood Problem Explained

Seven years since the 2014 flood, and still no solution

In just the last twelve years, Escambia County has suffered four so-called “100-year” floods

Escambia County hasn’t done enough to protect its citizens from flooding - water in homes, garages, and in the streets. Many residents affected by flooding are frustrated and aren’t sure how to demand action or whether they can make a difference.

homes under water

Nearly 7,000 homes were damaged by the flooding

families displaced

Hundreds of families were displaced

fema funding

4,000 flood insurance claims were filed by flood victims

But these numbers don’t capture the whole story:

Many more people have been impacted by flooding. In fact, many flood victims aren’t even aware their homes are in floodplains until it’s already too late.

The best available flood models show that the federal flood maps miss more than 30% of the Escambia homeowners at risk of flooding.

Escambia’s Flood Protection & Planning is Failing its Citizens

We already know Escambia is hugely flood-prone. The Western Panhandle region is one of the wettest in the country, sea levels are rising, and extreme rainfall events are getting more frequent.

Our team did the research. We graded Escambia County on common sense flood protection principles. It’s failing citizens and homeowners in the county.

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Plan

Escambia is building on a broken foundation - the county’s flood maps are inaccurate.

The plan the county developed for stormwater management and flood protection after the April 2014 Flood is ambitious, but it’s far behind schedule. In 6 years, the county has only finished 8% of the work it committed to in the plan.

neighborhood protection

 

Protect

The County lagged behind its Panhandle neighbors in establishing even average building standards for flood protection. But in 2015, Escambia finally required that new buildings be protected from a 100-year storm.

Now, Escambia is struggling with enforcement challenges. Its inspectors are overstretched, and the county has had problems ensuring that new developments adhere carefully to codes that protect nearby residents.

Repair Scorecard

 

Repair

Escambia’s Public Works department is short on staff, meaning that key stormwater and flood protection infrastructure goes without maintenance important to keep it working properly. 

The repair backlog creates issues: clogged and undersized pipes, poorly draining stormwater ponds, and blocked drainage ditches that contribute to flood problems for county residents.

Invest Scorecard

Invest

Escambia County has gotten its priorities wrong. After three major storms in 12 years displaced thousands of residents and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, the County still isn’t investing much in flood protection.

In fact, Escambia spent more in six years to build a new county jail than it’s spent to protect residents from flooding - in decades.

Smart funding strategies would help, but the county hasn’t pursued them. This leaves Escambia with a bits-and-pieces strategy that does little to protect homes and property.

Residents are tired of flooding and want action.

Our polling supports what we’ve heard from residents:

  • Flooding has had widespread impact: Nearly 90% of Panhandle residents have been impacted by flooding in some way. 

  • Residents are worried: A full 50% of Panhandle residents mark themselves as concerned or very concerned about the problem.

  • Citizens want to see action: 50% of Panhandle residents think the government should seek comprehensive flood solutions, and 68% think those solutions should be driven by local governments.

In our polling, we’ve found that nearly 90% of Panhandle residents have been impacted by flooding in some way.

92% of the plan remains unfunded.

After the 2014 flood, Escambia County put together $417 million worth of projects with promises of better flood protection. But seven years later, only 8% of the plan has been funded.

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Funding of flood protection projects deemed "high-priority" by the county

While every Escambia County district has unmet flood protection needs, some are farther behind. Districts represented by Commissioners Bergosh, May, and Barry have a particularly long way to go to keep residents safe: together, their districts need more than $200M for flood protection recommended by the 2015 plan.

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Misplaced priorities put residents at risk


 

 

The county will claim that they don’t have the funds to do more work or that they hope state and federal grants will come through.

But the county has funds. They’re just using them elsewhere.

  • The problem: In 2020-2021, the county only budgeted $3 million for drainage and flood protection, but $10.9 million for construction and maintenance on roads, bridges, and sidewalks.

  • Yes, and: This pattern has held for years. Over the last decade, the county has spent twice as much local option sales tax money on roads than on drainage.

Another problem: Budgetary neglect extends beyond capital projects to departments and their staff. The Public Works Departme nt has not seen a budget increase in at least 14 years, despite needing to maintain the 400 new stormwater ponds built in that time.

  • Go deeper: Until recently, one inspector was saddled with the task of monitoring subdivision construction and enforcing development at dozens of sites across the county. Before hiring an additional inspector, places like Oakfield Acres had already flooded.

The big picture: The County Commission makes flood problems worse by underinvesting in its staff, but it doesn’t have to be like this if the county prioritizes better. The county can fund projects that lower your and your neighbors’ flood risk. In fact, for every $1 they raise, they can invest up to $60 in flood protection with bond financing and state and federal grants.

Take action: The county needs to prioritize flood protection by adequately funding staff, giving stormwater drainage and flood control a bigger share of the capital improvement pie, and executing on its $417M plan to address flooding in Escambia. With your help and a little creativity, your County Commissioners can accomplish this. But they need to hear from county residents to force action now.

We need help from people like you.

If you are a concerned citizen who is ready for your county officials to take action, join us.

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