Cobb County, Georgia

FEMA helps Georgia counties rebuild after record-breaking rains

In 2009, several counties across Georgia experienced the worst flooding in their history, when six months' worth of rain fell in just 24 hours. Hundreds of homes and businesses—many of them not in designated floodplains—were flooded. Following the floods, leaders in Cobb County secured FEMA grants to acquire more than 60 substantially damaged homes. The city then established deed restrictions ensuring that the land will be maintained as green space in perpetuity.

Photo by George Armstrong – FEMA

Community facts

Population
741,334
Homes
295,622
Businesses
80,947
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

FEMA covered most of the flood mitigation costs for projects across Georgia, while the remainder was secured through state and local funds and flood insurance money. Cobb County, for example, received funding from the Cobb County Water System, and also from Increased Cost of Compliance flood insurance funds, which provided up to $30,000 to help cover the cost of mitigation measures. Cobb County homeowners with flood insurance got additional funds from insurers, and the local hazard mitigation department worked with a public assistance program to cover demolition costs for homes not covered by flood insurance.

Post-acquisition, Cobb County land was returned to its natural state, creating green space that added value to the community, while also giving floodwaters a place to go, which further reduces flood risks to nearby structures. “The only thing we have to do now is mow the grass and plant trees,” says Bill Higgins, division manager for storm water, Cobb County Water System.

Benefits of mitigation

Economic benefits
$9.5 million
Total monetized benefits
Return on investment
9.9%
Estimated return on investment
Benefit-cost ratio
1.1
Benefit-cost ratio of the Cobb County projects
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (2010). Loss Avoidance Study, Georgia, Building Modification Projects.

Project challenges

Crucial repairs were delayed by insurance restrictions and a Congressional freeze on disaster funding

Some residents could not get permits for repairs until their homes were elevated, and repairs were further delayed in 2009 when Federal Disaster Relief Funds were frozen by Congress until July 2010. “In the interim, many homes were foreclosed and the flood victims had to ‘walk away,’” says Higgins.

“Deed-restricted open green spaces next to major creeks provide permanent flood mitigation, provide wildlife habitat, preserve wetland functions and help preserve water quality in urbanizing areas. We have found it to be an effective way to counterbalance some of the negative effects of urbanization and to revitalize communities.”
Bill Higgins, division manager for storm water, Cobb County Water System

Future considerations

Another morning rain falls on an already saturated city park.
Photo by Steve Zumwalt - FEMA
Updated flood maps and new park land add value to the community while reducing the risk of flooding to nearby homes

Much of the floodplain has been returned to green space, eliminating the cost of future flood recovery efforts and creating passive parkland for the community to enjoy. Floodplain maps have also been redrawn, protecting remaining homes from future events. “If we'd had that new flood map it would have allowed a lot more property owners to participate in the grant program,” says Terry Lunn, hazard mitigation division director, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.