Preventing Flood Damage

Property Protection

In addition to community-wide actions, there are also actions homeowners and business owners can take. Electrical panels, furnaces, water heaters, and washers/dryers should be elevated or relocated to an area less likely to be flooded. Basement floor drains and backwater prevention valves can be installed and interior floodwalls can be placed around utilities. If flooding is likely, and time permits, move essential items and furniture to the upper floors of your home. Keep materials like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber handy for emergency waterproofing. These actions will help minimize the amount of damage caused by floodwaters.

FEMA’s “Protect Your Home from Flooding” brochure contains recommendations to help individuals reduce risk. Some recommendations are inexpensive and simple, while some take more effort but save money in the long-run. Some recommendations include:
Install a rain barrel
Clean gutters
Install a sump pump
Elevate mechanicals
Use water-resistant building materials on inner walls

The Office of the City Engineer maintains data on historic flooding elevations on various channels. The Stormwater Division is available to provide advice on flooding, drainage and storm drain problems. The Department of Planning, Building and Development is available to provide advice on retrofitting or modifying buildings to protect them from flooding.

Permit Requirements

Always verify Department of Planning, Building and Development before you build on, alter, degrade or fill on your property. A permit may be needed to ensure that a project is compliant with all regulations. Illegal building or filling should be reported to the Building Department (call 540-853-2344 for a code violation). A special permit is required for any type of development including new construction, substantial improvements, placement of fill, paving or excavation occurring within a floodplain area. New buildings in the floodplain must be protected from flood damage.

Our building code requires that new buildings or ‘substantial improvements’ to existing buildings must be constructed with the lowest floor elevated or floodproofed to a minimum of two feet above the base flood elevation including mechanical. A substantial improvement is any repair, reconstruction, or improvement of a structure, the cost of which equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of that structure. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) requires that if the cost of reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition or other improvements to a building equals or exceeds 50% of the building’s market value, then the building must meet the same construction requirements as a new building. 

If a building in a floodplain is determined by the local official to be substantially damaged, it must be brought into compliance with local floodplain management regulations. Substantial damage applies to a structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) for which the total cost of repairs is 50 percent or more of the structure’s market value before the disaster occurred, regardless of the cause of damage.

More information about floodplain regulations can be found on the Municipal Code - Sec. 36.2-333. - Floodplain Overlay District.

Drainage Maintenance

The City of Roanoke is drained by a combination of underground pipes and open ditches. Maintenance of these systems is very important. Depositing trash, grass clippings, branches, leaves, or soil in a storm drain, pipe, or ditch obstructs the flow of water, which can cause flooding of roads and private property. It is the responsibility of all property owners to keep ditches on private property clear and cleaned of debris. If you know of any unapproved filling or rerouting of streams or ditches, please contact the Department of Planning, Building and Development at 540-853-1730.

Flood Mitigation Projects

The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA 2000) requires local governments, receiving federal disaster mitigation funds, to have a mitigation plan that describes the process for identifying hazards, risks and vulnerabilities and prioritizes mitigation actions, encourages the development of local mitigation and provide technical support for those efforts. The 2019 Regional Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan, developed by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, fulfills the Federal requirements in identifying hazards; establishing community goals and objectives and mitigating activities that are appropriate for the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany region.

The City of Roanoke remains very committed to the reduction of flood hazards. Many mitigation projects have specifically targeted repetitive loss homes.  Since 1997, the city has purchased 50 homes that have experienced repetitive flood damage. The homes have been removed, and the lots will remain vacant and maintained in perpetuity. The city has also upgraded many storm drains and bridges to more quickly drain stormwater during heavy rains. In conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, the city has completed the Roanoke River Flood Reduction Project (RRFRP) which will also reduce flooding and risk for some properties along the Roanoke River. These improvements will decrease flooding from smaller, more frequent rainfalls; however, it will not protect against larger floods like that which occurred in 1985. 

The city continues to monitor and mitigate stormwater and flooding problems within its limits. If you are aware of a problem, or a potential problem, please notify the Stormwater Division at 540-853-5900.

Grant Opportunities 

FEMA Grants
Grant funds are available for pre and post emergency or disaster related projects. These funds support critical recovery initiatives, innovative research and many other programs. Grants are the principal funding mechanism FEMA uses to commit and award federal funding to eligible state, local, tribal, territorial, certain private non-profits, individuals and institutions of higher learning.

DCR Grants
Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund state grants help dam owners and Virginia localities enhance public safety and reduce the risk of dam failures and property damage from flooding. The fund was established to provide grants to public and private dam owners whose dams are under state regulation. Grants are available also to help local governments improve methods for flood prevention and protection. All grants are reimbursements and require a 50 percent match. The maximum amount per grant is determined based on amounts requested from eligible projects, application scores and available funds. The fund is managed by the Virginia Resources Authority on behalf of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Grants are awarded through a competitive application process, and awards are approved by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board.

Stormwater Utility Flood Mitigation Program
This program is applicable to residential structures in the FEMA designated floodway or floodplain, where other mitigation strategies are not a viable option. Learn more by reading the program's requirements and application process

Virginia Conservation Assistance Program 
The Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) is an urban cost-share program that provides financial incentives and technical and educational assistance to property owners installing eligible Best Management Practices (BMPs) in Virginia's participating Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs).

Natural and Beneficial Functions 

Under natural conditions, a flood causes little or no damage. Nature ensures that floodplain flora and fauna can survive the most frequent flooding. Natural areas (those without development) help reduce our flood damage by allowing flood waters to spread over a large area. This reduces water velocities and provides flood storage to reduce peak flows downstream.  When natural areas are developed, flood velocities and flood risk increase for the area.  It is our job to preserve natural areas in the floodplain whenever possible. The city has adopted ordinances to reduce future development in our natural floodplain areas. The city also has an ongoing commitment to work with its surrounding jurisdictions because of the impact that development in these areas has on flooding throughout the Roanoke Valley.

Help us preserve natural areas. Don't pour oil, grease, pesticides, or other pollutants into the storm drain. Both the streets and storm drains carry water to the Roanoke River. Polluting the Roanoke River will damage the resiliency that natural areas contribute to a community.  Learn more about stormwater pollution and how you can help. Be part of the solution, not the pollution. Together, we can create a clean water legacy. 

 Some Natural Functions of Floodplains    
Natural Flood and Erosion Control
    • Provide flood storage and conveyance
    • Reduce flood velocities
    • Reduce peak flows
    • Reduce sedimentation
Water Quality Maintenance
    • Filter nutrients and impurities from runoff
    • Process organic wastes
    • Moderate temperature fluctuations
Groundwater Recharge
    • Promote infiltration and aquifer recharge
    • Reduce frequency and duration of low surface flows
Biological Productivity 
    • Promote vegetative growth through rich alluvial soils
    • Maintain biodiversity
    • Maintain integrity of ecosystems
Fish and Wildlife Habitats
    • Provide breeding and feeding grounds
    • Create and enhance waterfowl habitat
    • Protect habitats for rare and endangered species
 A United National Program for Floodplain Management FEMA-248 (1994)