Flood costs expected to reach 2 billion

Sep 23, 2013

The damage to Colorado’s multi-billion dollar agriculture economy from recent flooding is immense, with rows of crops submerged, buildings and fences destroyed, and animals lost. While officials in the state are still trying to wrap their minds around a dollar number to associate with the loss, producers are beginning the recovery process.

Over several days, surging waters swept away barns, silos and fences and left houses covered in mud across several counties. The flood waters were so powerful they uprooted irrigation pipes and spread them around fields. Fields across the eastern plains—be they corn, wheat or grazing—have been converted to lakes.

While the rains did bring instant relief to the drought-stricken area, the damage may outweigh the relief. But hope is still in the air.

“There is a silver lining if we look down the road,” said Ron Carleton, Colorado Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture. “We just have to get past these near-term impacts.”

Agriculture is the state’s third-largest industry at $8.5 billion. Local government officials say it’s too early to get an assessment of how much the flooding damage will cost the industry. While some counties have not yet estimated how much land was damaged, Weld County has said they believe the number to be more than 2,300 parcels of agricultural land.

Irrigation ditches across the counties took a hard hit with the flooding. Hay and alfalfa fields reduced to lakes will take a toll on already overpriced feed.

“I don’t think we’re going to know for a while how much damage is out there,” said Weld County Commissioner Mike Freeman.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has been working to help producers however needed.

“At this time, CCA will continue ongoing assessments to determine if some level of relief assistance is desired from our members upon evaluating infrastructure, livestock and feed impacts,” the organization said in a statement.

“Large areas of the state will see some agricultural benefits from this storm system,” Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s climatologist told reporters.

The floods have left six confirmed dead, plus two women missing and presumed dead as of publishing. As of last Wednesday, state officials said the number of people reported unaccounted was down to about 200.

Jennifer Hillmann, a spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office north of Boulder, said Wednesday that widespread airlifts have given way to “pinpoint” rescues and doorto-door searches.

“We’re having a lot of people who are holed up and they don’t want to leave the area,” Hillmann said. But she added that more were calling in, lowering the unaccounted for list.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association had to shut down nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells in flooded areas as a precaution, and crews were busy inspecting operations to check for any leaks, the Denver Post reported.

The rebuilding efforts and cost are expected to reach 2 billion and take months, if not years, to complete.

County officials have started their own damage tallies: 654 miles of roads in Weld County bordering Wyoming, 150 miles of roads in the Boulder County roads foothills, along with hundreds of bridges, culverts and canals. More than 400 lane-miles of state highway and more than 30 bridges have been destroyed or are impassable.

Rescue efforts continued last week for residents in areas cut off completely by the flood waters, but some chose to stay behind despite warnings.

Nick Christensen, the executive officer of the Larimer County Sheriff’s office, advised during a news conference Wednesday that those willing to stay should have plans in place to get through the winter.

“Can they go without mail? Can they go without groceries? Can they go without power and lights?” he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Cabinet members continued to visit and assist flooded communities. State agencies are providing direct assistance for rescue and recovery, infrastructure, safety and ongoing efforts such as insurance and information regarding state lands and services in the affected areas.

Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order to declare a disaster emergency due to the flooding affecting 14 counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Fremont, Jefferson, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld.

The order authorizes $6 million for the Disaster Emergency Fund from the General Fund to pay for flood response and recovery. The governor gave verbal approval for this disaster declaration on Thursday, Sept 12 when the Executive Order was signed.

“Beginning on Sept. 11, 2013, heavy rainfall fell west of Interstate 25 from south of Colorado Springs to the Wyoming border. The greatest impact as in Boulder County, where up to eight inches of rain fell. Rainfall continued with the National Weather Service predicting another 2-4 inches on September 13. While authorities cannot conduct damage assessments until the rainfall subsides and the flooding recedes, known consequences are three fatalities, three injuries, damage to a natural gas distribution pipeline, power outages, at least two structures destroyed, water damage to approximately 40 buildings on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus, isolation of the towns of Estes Park, Jamestown, Lyons and Nederland, damage to U.S. Highway 34, closure of numerous roads and damage to the Town of Lyons wastewater treatment system,” the order, released Sept. 15, stated.

Following the order, heavy rains continued to damage more areas across the state.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster exists in Colorado and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides.

The President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Boulder County. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, lowcost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Boulder County. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator of FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, named Michael J. Hall as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800/621-FEMA(3362) or 800/462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. MST seven days a week until further notice. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor