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Primary channel banks are the outer banks of the watercourse. In general, the base flood will fill the watercourse at least to the primary banks. Annual flows and small floods will sometimes incise a low-flow channel and create secondary banks. Building setbacks are measured from the primary banks.
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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prepares studies providing local agencies with the necessary information to administer their floodplains. The County can provide photocopies of portions of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) upon written request.
However, only a professional flood zone determination company can determine that a property is not in the floodplain. The County does not provide this service. If the FIRM shows a Floodplain on your property, it is very probable that your lending institution will require you to purchase flood insurance.
It is common in Cochise County for portions of washes to be dry for long periods and to have no distinct banks. These same "dry" washes can carry significant flows at high velocities. Visible signs of a watercourse on property could be a vegetation line near the watercourse when a defined flow path is not visible.
Watercourse means any lake, river, creek, stream, wash, arroyo, improved or unimproved channel, or other body of water through which waters flow at least periodically where the peak flow is fifty cubic feet per second (50 cfs) or greater during the base flood discharge.
Additionally, some properties are subject to complete flooding, or sheet flow, which may have been determined to constitute a Floodplain, although there is no designated or visible signs of a watercourse.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has done studies to determine the areas of potential flooding problems. They are the final authority on where the Floodplain boundaries are.
There are several possibilities:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the sole authority for determining the flood zone boundaries. For a property owner to get a delineated parcel out of the FEMA 100-year floodplain, the owner must submit an Engineering Study to FEMA. The study must demonstrate that such a classification (Flood Zone A) is not warranted. Requirements for studies can be obtained from the County, but the authority for revisions is FEMA's.
The lowest floor of conventional homes or the lowest structural frame of manufactured homes must be a minimum of one foot above the expected 100-year flood if there is a known water surface elevation. The actual elevation requirement will be determined upon receipt of the building permit application or floodplain use permit and could be higher if the 100-year flood water surface elevation is not known.
All structures must be setback from the primary bank of any watercourse to protect from erosion. The distance varies from 50 to 300 feet, depending upon the peak flow rate of the watercourse. Due to the volume of requests, the County will only determine elevation and erosion setbacks upon receipt of a building permit application.
If the property owner desires a smaller setback distance, they may hire a professional engineer to provide the County with justification. Or the professional engineer may provide a bank stabilization design that may justify a smaller setback.
For a fee, a photocopy of a portion of the appropriate FIRM can be mailed upon request. Such maps identify the type of flood zone for every area in the County. The flood insurance rates are then based on those flood zones. An 8 1/2 by 11 copy of the pertinent portion of the FIRM will be sent to you free of charge, upon written request.
However, we do not have extra FIRM maps at our office. For further information contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 800-358-9616 or visit the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map for Cochise County online.
The policy is to email the request to the Flood Zone Department by using the Flood Zone Inquiry Form. The inquiry form will guide you through the steps to submit a request for your flood zone information. You can search for a record of previously released flood zone information, but if yours is not on the list you will have to complete the form and submit your request for staff to research. Due to the number of inquiries and staff size, the responses are typically given within 5 working days. For the fastest response time please be sure to include a current email address. Maps can be reviewed by interested parties at this office, the local libraries and some real estate offices. It is wise to call ahead and make an appointment if you intend to come in.
Floodplain Regulations can be purchased upon request at a cost of $10. Because of the high volume of requests we receive, all requests/complaints must be submitted in writing or by email. The 2015 Floodplain Regulations (PDF) can also be downloaded.
An Elevation Certificate is a document that certifies the elevation of a structure. It may be required by insurance companies to prove that the structure is in compliance with local regulations. It is the property owner's responsibility to obtain an Elevation Certificate within 30 days of completion of construction and supply the original of the certificate to the Floodplain Administrator. The owner must hire an Arizona Registered Surveyor (or Engineer) to complete the Elevation Certificate.
If there is an Elevation Certificate in our files, the County can send a copy upon written request, free of charge. Please include the tax parcel ID number (assessor's parcel number (APN)) and any other necessary location information with your written inquiry.
The County does not actively investigate drainage complaints until they are submitted in writing. The letter must identify the location of the watercourse diversion and should include the identity of who diverted the watercourse. The complainants should also include their own name and phone number for follow-up. Because of the high volume of requests we receive, all requests/complaints must be submitted in writing or by email.
Upon receipt of the written information, the County will investigate. If it is determined that there has been a violation of the floodplain regulations, the County will send a letter telling the property owner to restore the watercourse. If the property owner does not comply, the County can take legal action. The County will not remove the diversion using County resources unless it is determined to be a safety hazard.
However, this process is slow and demands a large burden of proof on the part of the County. Many property owners have found the civil courts to be more expeditious in resolving matters between property owners. The law is on your side if the other property owner has diverted a watercourse.
There is a lot of unregulated development within Cochise County on non-county maintained roads and in subdivisions. Roads are bladed in, lots are split and built upon, and there is no attempt to deal with the effects of stormwater and how the natural flow will change with the new development. Therefore, water that used to flow across open land becomes channelized and forced into a new path. Current legislation does not allow the County to control this.
County-maintained roads and flood control structures in Cochise County are designed to handle the most frequent storm events. On occasion, a larger storm event will occur that is greater than what the road was designed to handle. If one of these storm events occurs, water can overtop, and you may experience an increased amount of water on your property. This is to be expected.
For some areas, more intense studies regarding flood zones were done. Based on these updated flood studies, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has revised the flood maps. Due to ongoing development in Cochise County, updating maps is a constant process and will continue in the future.
If you want to prove that you are not in the floodplain, you may hire a professional flood zone determination company, which are typically used by lending companies.
You may also apply for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), which is a letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stating that an existing structure that was not elevated by fill material would not be inundated by the base flood. Or, you may apply for a Letter of Map Revision based on fill (LOMR-F), which is a letter from FEMA stating that an existing structure or parcel of land that has been elevated by fill would not be inundated by the base flood.