Is Athens Prepared for a Flood?

With the remnants of Hurricane Harvey fading out and many being faced with extensive damage, as well as the upcoming risks with Hurricane Irma, it leads to the question of how do cities prepare for floods?

Through the Oconee River Network and Athens-Clarke County Streets & Drainage Division, there is an emergency response plan to assist local police and firefighters during natural disasters, including flooding. This division also assists in clearing debris from streets, as well as the storm water systems.

Over the last 40 years, Athens removed pipes, plugged a dam, and placed restrictions on the floodplain areas.

Michael Moody, long-time paddler on the Oconee River, explained how Athens-Clarke County works proactively to enforce flood regulations using FEMA maps.

“Most of the development I’ve seen has been above the one-hundred year flood plain so Athens will be okay with a normal high water situation,” said Moody.

However, if the storm system stalls, then there are areas in Athens at risk of flooding. He mentioned that Athens is better off than Houston, even though there are some areas in danger of flooding.

“There is some bad development that got pushed through before they did zoning by North Avenue and Oconee Street. There are some apartments on the Oconee River at risk,” said Moody.

Kevin Gentry, the Street & Drainage System superintendent for Athens-Clarke County, comments that people should be aware of the flood risks to their land.

“The [Athens-Clarke County] Planning Department updates flood plain maps enough so that everyone should know if they are in a flood zone or not,” says Gentry.

Gentry also has his own crews within the division that check storm drains and curbs for debris every ten months and file work orders if the systems need to be cleared. As far as the river network goes, Gentry says the flooding normally does not get too terrible, but they still ensure that it does not affect too much of surrounding areas.

“The rivers up north do get high but not to the point of flooding infrastructure,” said Gentry. “[The water] can get up to the roads, but we make sure to check on those areas and the greenways if it does.”

To better prepare for the possibility of a flood, awareness is key. A map of Georgia’s flood zones can be found here. The map allows users to input their general area or address into the interactive map, which will then provide flood zone(s) and the probability of flooding.

Overall, the flooding zones for the Oconee and Athens counties are minimal. The Oconee River system only passes through each county once with additional smaller rivers flowing throughout the two counties.

A simplified graphic showing the flood zones in Oconee and Athens Georgia. (infographic/


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