Q: How does flood insurance work? If I don’t already have flood insurance, can I buy it and be protected if officials open the flood gates at Tuttle Creek?
A: The quick answer is that if you buy flood insurance today, it won’t kick in for 30 days. So if Manhattan sees major flooding in the next few weeks, you’d be out of luck.
But the threat of flooding likely won’t go away anytime soon. If you’re on the fence about it, local officials and insurance agents say the sooner you buy it the better.
“Flood insurance is the only thing that will provide financial recovery after a flood,” said Chad Bunger, senior city planner and certified floodplain manager. “Your basic homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance will not cover that.”
Here’s how it works.
Flood insurance is actually a national program offered through the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but citizens won’t see FEMA agents selling coverage. Instead, flood insurance is bought through traditional homeowner’s insurance agents, who in turn, register property owners through the national program.
That means your flood insurance rate would be the same, no matter what agent or company you go through.
“Anyone — no matter where you live in Manhattan, Riley County or Pottawatomie County — can get flood insurance,” Bunger said. “If your insurance agent says you do not live ,in a flood plain and cannot get flood insurance, it’s time to get a new insurance agent, because they do not know what they’re talking about.”
Flood insurance is even required for certain properties. Homes in high flood risk areas with mortgages from federally regulated lenders or insurers are legally required to carry it, and some lenders require it even for low to moderate risk zones.
But even though people would pay the same rate across insurance agents, the rates themselves aren’t necessarily the same for every customer. Rates vary based on a few factors.
“It’s a misconception that you can just pull a number out of the air,” Vonda Copeland, operations administrator at Copeland Insurance Agency, said. “Everything is rated according to the risk.”
Two rate factors are property location, especially if the property is in a flood plain, and the elevation certificate, which is a survey document that measures the difference in elevation between the base flood elevation and the lowest point on the building. This certificate may need to be commissioned by the insurance seeker if one does not yet exist, or if the property wasn’t insured by the previous owner.
For most citizens, there are two flood insurance coverage options: building property coverage, which can cover up to $250,000 to homes or buildings, and personal property coverage, which covers up to $100,000 in lost home contents. Each comes with varying levels of coverage based on the chosen deductible and premiums, but people who buy flood insurance are covered for the replacement value up to the policy limit.
Like regular renter policies, renters can also buy their own flood insurance policy to cover the contents of a building, since a landlord-held policy only covers the building.
Building coverage insures the building itself, electrical and plumbing systems, air conditioning and heating systems, most appliances, and permanent carpeting, bookcases and cabinets.
Personal property coverage insures clothing, furniture, electronics, curtains, portable appliances, freezers and valuable items like original artwork and furs.
Not all items are covered under flood insurance. Most items, if left in a basement or other foundation structure, are not covered, with the exception of permanent structural items. That’s because flood insurance focuses on preventing damage, so avoidable damage to items in basements is not typically covered, Bunger said. Coverage for other separately-insured property, like cars or boats, will depend on the policy and type of coverage, and detached buildings will need their own building property policy through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Flood insurance kicks in once it floods. That doesn’t require a disaster declaration by the state or FEMA, but according to the National Flood Insurance Program, flooding is defined as “a general and temporary condition of partial or incomplete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties from … overflow of inland or tidal waters (or) unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source.” Flood damage is also considered when water currents cause land to collapse.
So no, water seepage into your basement or cellar is not considered flooding. Manmade flooding, such as water damage from overflowing bathtubs, washers or other similar incidents, is not covered either.
A common misconception is that a water release from Tuttle Creek Lake’s spillway gates would be considered manmade flooding, but that’s not the case. Under the National Flood Insurance Program’s definition, flooding resulting from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to release water is still covered.
Flood insurance will also not cover any loss-of-use type expenses, so one of the biggest financial hardships for families is finding a way to pay for temporary housing.
Compared to homeowner’s insurance for other events such as fire, flood insurance is more limited in its coverage, Copeland said.
“It’s a very limited scope,” Copeland said. “It covers this and this, and that’s it, where a regular policy might throw in identity theft coverage and jewelry floaters and other specific coverages. A flood policy is pretty basic.”
Copeland said that private flood insurance options for more or different coverage exist, but since they’re privately offered, those companies can put moratoriums on policies in specific counties. Right now, Riley County is under a moratorium.
Federal disaster aid isn’t a reliable option for flooding victims, according to FEMA. That kind of aid is only available when the president makes a presidential disaster declaration, and “most flood events do not result in a declaration.”
Although flooding is not an immediate concern, it will take some time for Tuttle Creek Lake to drain, even if rain stopped for the rest of the summer.
Tuttle Creek Lake’s elevation crossed the 1,128 feet above sea level threshold on Friday.
When the lake reached 1,136 feet, about 8 feet higher, in 1993, the Corps released the emergency spillway gates.