Seminole County leaders discuss flood risks following Hurricane Ian

New water basin studies may prompt leaders to change potential flood zones in the county

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Living by the water is part of life in Central Florida, where many areas are surrounded by the ocean, lakes and rivers.

Seminole County is studying the landscape and the flood risks that come with it in the hope that new data will lead to better informed decisions on future projects.

Tuesday, county commissioners discussed two water basin studies in the Lake Monroe and Wekiva areas. Public Works Director Jean Jreij said that commissioners hope to complete studies on all of the basins within the county by the end of next year. The data will provide new benchmarks to improve on decades-old data in some cases.

Maps included in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting show the possibility of the flood plain expanding in the Lake Monroe area. Atkins North America Consultant Christopher Thompson spoke to News 6 about the model and how it shows where the water might go in a particular area.

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“We’re seeing approximately a 33% increase in the amount of flood zone or potential flood zone,” Thompson said.

Mark Ellard, who is handling the Wekiva basin study for Geo Syntec Consultants, said that as they determine the flood risk, it could lead to some properties being added to the flood maps.

“The county has to toe the line because if there are people who should be in the flood plain, and they’re not, and something happens, they don’t have the insurance that helps them pay for those projects,” Ellard said. “And on the flip side, we certainly are very cognizant of identifying flood areas where there really isn’t a flood risk.”

Ellard said that like most areas in Central Florida, there is a significant risk because of the amount of rain.

After Hurricane Ian dumped rain across the state, homeowners spent weeks dealing with the flooding that followed.

Brandye Haines showed News 6 where the water from the St. John’s River flowed through her street in the Sanford Farms area. She said that she had about 4 feet of water in her backyard. Her neighbors used canoes and kayaks to get in and out of their homes.

“My kids took out their kayaks and went all around the forest,” Haines said.

There is a lot that can be learned from the water basin studies, but commissioners did ask about finding ways to reduce flooding as the county continues to grow and construction continues in flood plain locations.

“The more houses they keep putting in, I just don’t feel like they have enough place for all the water to go,” Haines said.

Haines pointed out the new developments near her neighborhood on Orange Avenue. She hopes they can find solutions that meet everyone’s needs moving forward.

Several mitigation projects are already in the works in Seminole County. At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also approved contracts with FEMA through the Florida Division of Emergency Management for drainage projects at Lake Harney Circle, Old Mims and South Jungle Road, and Mullet Lake Park.

Public Works Director Jreij said the new research they are gathering on each basin will help them make more informed decisions regarding future improvement projects. They will identify short-term and long-term solutions and work out what can be done.

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Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.