Saturday, January 13, 2007

Governor proposes Natural Hazard Response & Mitigation Program at AZGS

Governor Napolitano’s budget includes funds to develop a Natural Hazards Response and Mitigation program at AZGS. The goal is to improve Arizona’s insufficient ability to respond to and mitigate the increasing natural hazards threat to life and property.

Governor’s proposal for a Natural Hazards Response and Mitigation Program:
The Governor’s plan states, “The costs and risks of catastrophic natural hazards can be greatly reduced through meeting State, county and municipal agencies’ requests for
assessment of potential for flooding, debris flows, landslides, rock falls, and expansive soils. The Executive recommends $67,500 and 1.0 FTE position for FY 2008 and $48,100 and 1.0 FTE for FY 2009 for, respectively, an engineering geologist and a geo-technician. It is anticipated that funding for the geologist position will be self-sustaining by FY 2009 by charging fees for developer’s reports and other services that the position would provide.

Natural hazards are an increasing threat to life and property in Arizona: Arizona is subject to a wide array of natural hazards including floods, debris flows, landslides and lateral erosion, earth fissures, expansive soils, and earthquakes. As population grows in our urban areas, we are seeing increased development in areas previously avoided such as flood prone areas in apparently dry channels in distributary fans, zones of earth fissures, canyon mouths subject to debris flows and others.

FEMA floodplain maps do not reveal the danger of Arizona’s flooding hazards: Water in Arizona often flows through ephemeral channels in distributary fans that may serve as primary channels for a number of years before shifting to new paths, especially during floods. National flood hazard assessments are based on geologic conditions more typical of the eastern U.S. where channels and flood plains are well defined and long lasting. As a result, many areas of sedimentary fans in Arizona are subject to flooding even though they are not in flood plains and are not subject to FEMA flood insurance requirements. Typically, unless homeowners are in a defined flood hazard zone, they are unaware of the hazards and do not take appropriate measures such as obtaining flood insurance.

The new earth fissure maps do not deal with policy dilemmas, or mitigation measures: Newly enacted earth fissure mapping addresses two key elements of a natural hazards program, identification and public information. However, once the maps are prepared and released, state and local agencies have to cope with the consequences. There are no guidelines on how to develop in fissure zones, whether setbacks are appropriate and if so, how extensive they should be, what mitigation techniques can be applied, or whether fissures can be inactive permanently. AZGS has formed an Earth Fissure Advisory Board with representatives from state and local agencies, realtors, and other stakeholders to discuss these issues and try to prepare map users for their release.

One of the most important recommendations is to develop published guidelines on the preparation of geologic/geotechnical/hazards reports that are produced to meet state and local requirements. It is our expectation that Arizona-specific guidelines can be created from extant guidelines in Colorado, Utah, and California, among other states. While voluntary, such guidelines provide standards that can be adopted by local government or other entities. In states where voluntary guidelines are in place, they have become widely accepted and generally improved the standard of practice.

Current natural hazard identification and mitigation procedures are inadequate: Natural hazard identification and mitigation is generally done at the local government level, where appropriate expertise is often non-existent.

In conjunction with voluntary guidelines, AZGS needs to provide consulting and advisory services to affected agencies to evaluate and critique submitted reports. Most agencies and almost all local governments do not have geologic expertise to effectively review and respond to these reports. AZGS would advise the receiving agencies as to the completeness and adequacy of said reports and if requested, provide recommendations on how to deal with any natural hazards disclosed in them.

All reports reviewed by AZGS should be entered into a digital, online natural hazards bibliography (“Haz-Bib”), available to consultants, developers, governments, home-buyers, etc. The ready availability of natural hazards information will help ensure that problems identified in an area will not be overlooked on adjacent or nearby properties. It will help developers more readily evaluate hazards prior to investing in lands then feeling pressured to have to move forward to recover their costs.

Geotechnical borings are raising costs of development: Provisions of the Uniform Building Code (UBC) require geotechnical information for foundations of a large number of types of buildings in Arizona that can only be obtained through expensive borings. These borings are being drilled at each building site even though the geotechnical characteristics may be relatively uniform over wide areas. There are complaints that this redundancy is unnecessarily expensive.

The AZGS could serve as a repository for geotechnical borings and the associated analytical results and make them available to local governments, geotechnical consultants, and developers to better share results obtained by the private sector. These data would also allow AZGS or others to construct detailed maps of geotechnical characteristics. Such maps would be an invaluable tool for highway and infrastructure planning in addition to the original use in building foundation work.

Arizona has insufficient ability to deal with natural hazards issues: For the past decade, AZGS activities in natural hazards has been largely restricted to detailed geologic mapping in urban and urbanizing areas, identified as high priority by the Survey’s external mapping advisory committee.

A modest increase in state support to address natural hazards in Arizona is justified and within reason. Arizona ranks last in the nation in per capita spending on its state geological survey, among all the states reporting. Even among surrounding states, Arizona fares poorly in comparison. California spends about fours times as much, Colorado nearly five times, Nevada 5.3 times, Utah more than 11 times, and New Mexico over 13 times as much per capita as does Arizona. Yet Arizona has more mineral production than any of them and is only slightly behind Nevada in population growth.

Stakeholder recommendations: We consulted with leaders in Arizona’s relevant state agencies and professional and trade groups. Their recommendations have been integrated with those from our last external agency review (2) and can be summarized into four core areas with the advocating entities in parentheses:

1. Identify hazards and assess risk

2. Develop guidelines for the preparation of geologic reports in Arizona.

3. Serve as technical advisors and reviewers for state and local agencies that receive geological/geotechnical reports; create a publicly available repository of geotechnical reports (“Haz-Bib”).

4. Establish a repository for geotechnical borings used to determine criteria to meet building codes.

References Cited:

Report of the Arizona Geological Survey Review Committee, by the American Institute of Professional Geologists, Arizona section, AZGS Open-file Report 97-20, 1997, 67p.

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