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Rudi Kiefer: Consider flood dangers when building or buying a home
During a Brenau class in Braselton last week, a question came up that’s probably on many people’s minds: How can ordinary citizens deal with the climatic changes in progress? One of the most effective measures is to use wise judgment when purchasing or building a home.

Flooding has always been a concern, but it’s rising to the forefront of environmental problems this century.

We’re not near the coast, so hurricanes and storm surges aren’t a major worry in North Georgia. However, we have a lot of floodplains. Mountain ranges and steep hillsides alternate with stream valleys.

Wherever the ground is level and flat, it appears deceivingly like good ground to build a house on. Look closely, though, and you’ll find a stream crossing it. The level ground is produced by river deposits that have accumulated in earlier flood events.

In an extreme rain sequence, the river will overflow its banks again and spread its sediments further. It’s a normal process in nature. Erosion wears the hill slopes down, and the washed-away soil, clay, silt and gravel as well as stones are moved to another resting place by the rushing waters.

Buildings sitting in the floodplain will suffer damage during such events. In a severe case, a house can be shoved off its foundation and carried downstream until it disintegrates into a pile of broken studs.

Don’t be deceived by terms such as “100-year” or even “500-year floodplain.” These designations only mark a statistical probability and don’t give assurance that a devastating flood can’t happen next winter. They also don’t guarantee that there won’t be two 100-year floods in a row.

It’s always amazing to see how new construction follows devastation by a natural event in the same spots as before.

Recognizing a floodplain is simple. Surface water always flows downhill. A building lot that’s flanked by two slopes at an angle is in the same position as the bottom of a funnel. Runoff water is sure to cross the property.

Level ground wedged in a valley between mountain ranges is the most vulnerable. The narrower the valley, the greater the likelihood that structures at its bottom get wiped out. North Georgia’s old towns teach a lesson. Where old homes are on higher ground, and new developments are situated low near the streams, the earlier residents clearly made the smarter decisions.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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