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Quick-Look at the California DWR Building Standards Code Update Project, Past and Future

What (Past):
DWR has developed and proposed for adoption and approval by the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) updated requirements to the California Building Standards Code pursuant to Senate Bill 5 (2007). DWR's Building Standards Code Update Project is an important part of the multi-faceted FloodSAFE California initiative, established in 2006, to improve public safety through enhanced integrated flood management state-wide.
Why:
The purpose of updating the Code is initially to improve public safety (particularly for vulnerable populations) and will be expanded to reduce significant and costly building damage due to flooding.
When:
DWR submitted its initial recommendation package to the CBSC in July 2009. The revised recommendation package was available for public review and comment through December 16, 2009 and was unanimously approved by the CBSC on January 12, 2010. The approved recommendation package consists of Code updates to improve public safety under deep flooding conditions in the Central Valley. It focuses on two key flood threats: (1) entrapment and/or drowning due to the lack of a safe evacuation route or an evacuation location. These voluntary Codes are designed to apply to single family dwellings (specifically building occupancy group R-3 and R-3.1).
What (Future):
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Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) signed into law in October 2007 updates the California Health & Safety Code to require the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to propose updated requirements to the California Building Standards Code. The requirements proposed for adoption and approval by the California Building Standards Commission (BSC) would be for construction in areas protected by the facilities of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan where flood levels are anticipated to exceed three feet for the 200-year flood event. Before DWR proposes the amendments to the California Building Standards Code, the Department is to consult with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the Division of the State Architect, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

The language within the Health and Safety Code (HSC) that pertains to the California Building Standards Code update is as follows:

Section 50465 is added to the Health and Safety Code, to read:

(a) On or before January 1, 2009, the Department of Water Resources shall propose for adoption and approval by the California Building Standards Commission updated requirements to the California Building Standards Code for construction in areas protected by the facilities of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan where flood levels are anticipated to exceed three feet for the 200-year flood event. The amendments to the California Building Standards Code shall be sufficient to reduce the risk of flood damage and protect life, safety, and the construction in those areas.

(b) Before the department proposes the amendments to the California Building Standards Code required pursuant to subdivision (a), the department shall consult with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the Division of the State Architect, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

The updated codes, once approved by the BSC, will apply in "areas protected by the facilities of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP) where flood levels are anticipated to exceed three feet for the 200-year flood event." The CVFP Plan is currently under development and will be approved in 2012.

To develop and direct the project until its completion, DWR quickly formed the Building Codes Team (BCT). The BCT consists of DWR staff from the Division of Flood Management, which has a long history in flood management in California; subject matter experts including flood proofing, national model code, California Building Standards Code, and National Flood Insurance Program; and additional technical and facilitation support.

Surpassing the requirements of HSC § 50465, the Building Codes Team also created a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to obtain input from stakeholder groups including the agencies specified in HSC § 50465. The TAC consists of more than twenty State agencies and organizations from different sectors of the building industry (residential, commercial, industrial, public, and private development). The members were recruited to augment the expertise in the BCT by forming a coalition of broad building code and flood management expertise. TAC members contribute technical expertise and knowledge to assist the BCT in developing the proposed BSC, and advice on strategy for a viable, acceptable rollout plan for the proposal. They are also encouraged to take part in public engagement meetings. The TAC was not chartered with approval authority, nor represents a consensus seeking process.

Public engagement meetings were held in January 2009 and later in the spring to solicit input for the preliminary results of investigation, and ultimately, the proposed BSC update package. Multiple meetings were held in the Central Valley to facilitate broad participation of local agencies, interested parties, and individuals.

HSC § 50465 requires that the proposed amendments to the California Building Standards Code be sufficient to reduce the risk of flood damage and protect life, safety, and the construction in those areas. With these in mind, the BCT has performed literature research of documented flood threats and developed a process of threat analysis to determine which hazards pose the greatest threat to life, safety, and structural property during a flood event. The BCT identified these "chief" threats and developed preliminary solutions. Upon obtaining input from the TAC and public, the BCT continued formulating provisional amendments to the Building Codes to mitigate these threats. After the second round of public engagement workshops, final development and the appropriate quality control reviews, DWR submitted a proposed code update package to the BSC by July 1, 2009. The voluntary Codes, unanimously approved by the CBSC on January 12, 2010, are designed to apply to single family dwellings (building occupancy group R-3 and R-3.1)