Feeling good about flood preparation

Flooding, should it come, will be nothing close to last September

| Apr 2, 2014

A Monday night, March 31, City and County presentation about flood preparation left me feeling good about our local officialdom: their professionalism and the incredibly hard work they’ve been doing to prepare for future flooding, including during the all-important spring runoff season that starts in a few weeks.

You too can share in my confidence by viewing the video of that night’s presentation by Mike Chard, director of the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, that’s been posted on the City website (go to this page and select the video titled “Flood Recovery and Preparedness Presentation”).

Mike Chard (City of Boulder photo)

Mike Chard
(City of Boulder photo)

Chard’s presentation was lucid, reassuring, and sprinkled with interesting but understandable jargon that showed me there’s a whole body of sophisticated expertise — largely unknown to laymen — at work in the emergency-preparedness professions.

The evening began and ended with an opportunity for informal Q&A, with all manners of City, County and nonprofit organization reps holding forth downstairs in the Municipal Building. The evening was punctuated in the middle by Chard’s presentation upstairs in the Council chambers. Both gatherings were not that heavily attended — probably because, for all the flood coverage, “only” about 6,000 of Boulder’s 40,000-plus households actually experienced flood damage.

Boulder City and County have been systematically working through a checklist of flood-damage mitigation, particularly the clearing away of sand, rock and tree-branch debris from waterways. They have a lot more work to do. By the time all of the damage to the city’s infrastructure has been repaired — probably not for two to three years — the effort will have cost about $40 million, with FEMA expected to reimburse 75 percent of that total and the State of Colorado another 12-1/2 percent, said Chris Meschuk, a City of Boulder planner.

What unfolds during the spring season will depend on how fast the unusually deep snows upstream melt and whether hard rainfalls come at the same time. But no matter how these two factors play out, flooding will be “nothing close to what we saw” last Sept. 11-14, Chard noted reassuringly. The highest-risk areas are in the Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek channels because these are the two waterways that draw water from high up near the Continental Divide, where deep “snowsheds” remain.

Two somewhat troubling factors that officials mentioned are: first, there remain high levels of groundwater saturation from last September, which could take up to a year and a half to settle back to more normal levels; and, second, we need to keep an eye out for predictions from climate forecasters of another El Niño period, which would foretell heavier-than-normal rainfall (none has been issued yet).

Residents were urged to sign up at www.boco911alert.com for emergency weather advisories, to own a special kind of radio that receives weather alerts, and (during emergency periods) to access the website boulderoem.com or the Twitter link @boulderoem.

Residents were also urged to buy flood insurance. I asked why the City has repeatedly touted buying flood insurance in its messages this year. “We do that every year,” an official told me. As for me, living in a neighborhood very hard hit by the flood and in a house that itself sustained some minor damage, I succumbed for the first time in 25 years and bought $460-a-year flood insurance (which, as it turns out, doesn’t cover a lot of things).

Interestingly, during the evening’s informal conversations and in the presentations upstairs, one phrase I never heard uttered was “climate change.” Hmmm.

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