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How to determine California Property in Flood Zone



Many miles of coastline, lakes, rivers, and streams puts millions of Californians at risk from flooding. So, how to determine if a California property is in a flood zone?

Flooding occurs in California annually. Yet, no one predicts when and where flooding occurs.

Floods devastate many regions in California requiring hydrologic engineers to estimate the likelihood of stages and annual flood flows in particular areas from collected data.


California Flood Hazard Disclosures to Tenants


California requires every property owner to disclose Flood Hazard Information to tenants.

In 2018, a new California law mandates full disclosure in rental and leasing contracts of any known flooding risks. All lease (rental) agreements must:

  • Appear in 8 point font or higher;
  • Location of the property in a special flood hazard area (or a potential one);
  • Only if the property owner has “actual knowledge” of this fact; and
  • “Actual Knowledge” means:
  • (a) Based on the owner receiving written notice of this fact from a public agency; or
  • (b) The owner’s mortgage company requires flood insurance; or
  • (c) The owner currently carries flood insurance.


How to determine if a California Property is in a Flood Zone


Both the State of California and the federal government maintain current information about flood risk areas.

Here’s how to get information about whether your California property sits in a flood zone area.


California Department of Water Sources Flood Risk Notification


Collected data creates flood information used to estimate average annual damages that helps to identify California flood-prone areas.

The California Department of Water Sources uses this data to create Flood Risk Notifications.

Thus, property owners stay informed about flood risks to their properties. This helps property owners to weigh cost-effective options to minimize flood risks. It also helps to determine the amount of flood insurance to purchase.

The California Flood Risk Notification Program makes the public aware of flood risks by helping the public to:

  • Understand levee systems;
  • Become aware of flood risk;
  • Take action to protect their properties and personal possessions; and
  • Enable flood recovery.

To do this, the California Department of Water Sources:

  • Sends out annual notices to at-risk property owners in the 17 counties Flood Protection Zone;
  • Provides the public with assessing the risk to reduce flood loss;
  • Maintains precise Levee Flood Protection Zone (LFPZ) maps;
  • Establishes public education and outreach projects; and
  • Collaborates with local and federal agencies and communities.


Knowing About California Flood Risks


The state and federal governments maintain more than 1,600 miles of levee systems in California’s Central Valley. Here the risk of flooding becomes greater than fires.

Some important facts to consider:

  • Since 1950, every county in California endured flood disasters at least 10 times;
  • Some counties experienced up to 29 federal and state disaster declarations;
  • Since 1983, the Central Valley Federal-State project levees experienced overtops and breaches more than 70 times;
  • One foot of floodwater causes more than $54,000 damage to a $150,000 single-family home. Three feet of floodwater causes more than $92,000 in damages; and
  • State, local, and federal agencies contribute to the improvement of the federal-state levee systems. Yet, flood risk always exists.


Best California Flood Zone Resources


Cal OES: My Hazards offers a tool for the public to discover hazards in their California area such as:

  • Flood;
  • Earthquake;
  • Fire; and
  • Tsunami.

DWR Maps developed by DWR shows floodplains maps over the past 100, 200, and 500 years. Users view particular areas to identify flood hazards and print a floodplain map.

FEMA Flood Map Service Center, the official flood hazard information public source. Provided by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Levee Flood Protection Zone Maps for Local Flood Risk

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Flood and the Flood Preparedness Information at Ready.Gov teach the public about reducing flood risk for businesses and homes.

The FEMA website provides information about protecting properties from flooding at:


General Information about Living in a California Flood Zone


Living in a flood zone requires preparing your home for the worst.

Fly over your neighborhood to view the layout. Notice the curving streets and areas of wilderness? Take a flood zone map of the same are to see why they make sense.

A “Flood Zone” means the area becomes a potential flood area at risk of flooding during heavy rains or a weather disaster.

Different levels of a flood zone exist. But, no matter what your neighborhood’s flood zone designation always prepare for a flood.

Follow these steps to check your home’s flood risk and protect against it.


Start with FEMA


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains an easy tool to see if your address is in a flood zone here. This portal provides information like floodways, flood zones, and your home’s risk level.

It also provides infrastructural and topographical information about coastal barriers, levees, and base flood lines. Initially, these maps make no sense.

How to Use the FEMA Map

FEMA maps provide an overlay of specific floodplains and your property’s risk. Labels such as “0.1 PCT Annual Chance of Flood Hazard” or “Area of Minimal Flood Hazard”.

Decode these labels by using FEMAs FEMA’s Managing Floodplain Development through the NFIP. It explains all the confusing terms.

Also, when you see dated labels for your area toggle these dates to view updated versions or view their Dynamic Map.


Buy Flood Insurance


Living in a Flood Zone requires buying flood insurance. Examine your homeowner’s policy to see if it includes flood coverage.

Before purchasing a policy consider government-sponsored insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). You’ll find this cheaper than private insurance carriers.

While some insurance carriers charge from $200 to $800 a year check out the FloodSmart.gov site to learn how the NFIP helps you to pay less for flood insurance.

Read our post here about “Insurance Policies for Landlords” to learn more about the different policies landlords should purchase.


Use a Flood Sensor


Prevent your home from flooding by using a flood sensor. This device notifies you of water leaks from your washing machine, water heater, and weather-related flooding in your basement.

Water leakage detectors also included in some home security systems. Amazon sells an iHome iSB02 Battery Powered Wi-Fi Leak Sensor for less than $30.


Watch Out for Changes


New construction and topography changes often occur. Flood zone and floodplains designations also change over time.

Check with FEMA and the California Department of Water Sources sites annually for any changes.


San Diego County Floodplain Management Plan


View the 2007 San Diego County Floodplain Management Plan here.


Revised San Diego County FEMA Flood Maps


In December 2019 FEMA made revisions to the flood maps for San Diego County. The changes also affected the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).

Also, FEMA added over 3,056 parcels to its high-risk zone. These include:

  • San Diego coastal neighborhoods (1,496 parcels);
  • Oceanside (1,024);
  • Imperial Beach (243);
  • Encinitas (127);
  • Coronado (67);
  • Carlsbad (64);
  • Del Mar (25);
  • Chula Vista (9); and
  • National City (4).

Visit the revised Flood Maps at the FEMA site.

View a list of the FEMA flood zone designations here.


City of San Diego Floodplain Management


The City of San Diego maintains its own Floodplain Management program. Administered by FEMA providing subsidized flood insurance for all qualifying property owners.

Visit the SanGIS website to get information on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

Read the entire City of San Diego Council Policy on this topic here.




The answer to the question: How to determine if a California property is in a flood zone? As explained here, it also provides you tools and resources to do the research yourself.

California requires all property owners to disclose Flood Hazard Information to their tenants.

We showed you how to do your own research with FEMA, the California Department of Water Sources, San Diego County, and the City of San Diego sources.


Too Much Hassle Researching Flood Hazard Information on Your Own?


If this involves too much time or seems difficult, consult with a California property management company.

Contact Us for all your property management needs in the greater San Diego region.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



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