Boulder County: It will take years for some farmers to recover from the September #COflood

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From 9News (Eric Egan):

Farming is still a foundation, a livelihood for people in Colorado. But that foundation was stripped and broken down after the floods.

“We lost about 65 percent of the ground,” Longmont farmer Jim Roberts said.

When the water receded, lush soil had nearly turned to sand. Roberts, working the land since 1994, has had maybe his worst eight months as a farmer.

“Most of those are just gravel bars. I doubt there will be any grass or feed for livestock,” he said.

Roberts’ farm was the first stop of a farm and flood tour held by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. He took questions from the tour group at the bed of his pick-up, alongside Boulder Creek. The spot was underwater last fall.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

A thundering wall of water shoots from the outlet for 50, 75, 100 feet, a current designed to take the “kick” out of the water leaving Button Rock Reservoir, dissipating its energy in a nearby pool. This is what 225 cubic feet per second looks like.

“We will be doubling this over the next two weeks,” said Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s public works director, over the roar. “We hope that’s all we need to do.”

If it’s not — well, the outlet can take it. Almost four times over. And that was part of the larger message Wednesday during a city-led tour of the off-limits Button Rock Preserve: the St. Vrain is ready.

“It’ll take the runoff,” said Ken Huson, Longmont’s water resources administrator.

The next week or two may put that to the test. Levels in the St. Vrain have been rising as a delayed snowmelt hits the creek. Near Lyons, the river lingered on either side of 450 cfs for much of the day— the “warning” level is 1,250, with capacity at 2,500 — with the possibility of thunderstorms every day through Sunday to add still more.

But in the Button Rock area, two facts grab the attention. The first is how clear the St. Vrain’s water is, free of the chocolate murkiness that would indicate choking debris. The second is the number of places where the water isn’t — the stream-molded boulders where a channel used to be, or the receded banks of Ralph Price Reservoir, lowered by city workers to clear flood-swept trees from the lake.

That reservoir now holds 12,000 acre-feet of water. When full, it can carry 16,000. On first arriving on its shore, three large piles of wood can be seen, last remnants of the logjam that once plugged the inlet. Some wood remains, Huson and Rademacher said, but not enough to interfere with runoff.

That doesn’t mean the river is perfectly safe, especially as more water comes into the channel.

“Stay back away from the streambed itself,” Huson urged, noting that parts of the banks may be less stable than before and break away without warning. “You just don’t know how the streambed is going to react to the increased stream flow. And you don’t know what might be coming down the stream.”

The flow of money has been just about as uncertain. City officials have estimated the total cost of flood-related work at $152 million. So far, Rademacher said, Longmont has about $11.5 million in projects deemed eligible for aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About $7.5 million has been spent by the city. But of the FEMA-approved money, only about $250,000 has been released by the state.

In March, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management hired Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting and audit firms, to help break the bottleneck. City Manager Harold Dominguez said Deloitte has now set up an electronic system for reimbursements and that Longmont has turned in a number of submittals.

“They said we should see something in 30 days,” Dominguez said. That clock started about two and a half weeks ago.

“We’re thinking Christmas in June,” Rademacher joked.

The city has also become part of a FEMA pilot program introduced during Hurricane Sandy. Normally, the city would lay out a project, and get money that could be used only for those expenses. Under the “alternate procedures” program, some of that money can be reassigned for other flood needs by city officials.

The tradeoff? It’s a one-time payout.

For example, it’s currently estimated that removing granular debris from Ralph Price Reservoir will cost $4.5 million. FEMA can reimburse up to 75 percent of an eligible expense, which in this case, would be $3.375 million. If the city applied for that amount through traditional channels, it could only be spent on that debris — but if the estimates were off and the cost came in higher, FEMA could reimburse more.

By contrast, if the project were submitted under the pilot program, Longmont could get that $3.375 million and spend some of it on other flood-related needs. But that price estimate is final; if Ralph Price’s cleanup proved more costly, tough; it can’t be resubmitted.

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