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Colorado cities are dealing with huge demand for flood debris disposal, and entire neighborhoods are dealing with sewer backups as wastewater treatment plants run at maximum capacity.
No one wants to wake up to water rising in their bedroom, or to an evacuation order because of flooding.
But that is what thousands of Colorado residents have been dealing with since destructive flooding began in the region Sept. 11.
Boulder County had more than nine inches of rain Sept. 12, and by Sept. 15, that number had increased to 17 inches, just a few inches shy of the county’s average annual precipitation.
Flood waters spread almost 200 miles, prompting Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to declare a disaster emergency Sept. 13 in 14 counties. Federal emergency declarations covered those counties by Sept. 15.
The flooding event has drawn nationwide coverage and gives one pause — could it happen here?
Union County Emergency Manager J.B. Brock points out that this region is a prime water drainage area.
“We do flood. We’re in a valley,” he said.
A valley that was once a lake.
“We have high water events nearly every spring,” Brock said.
But when talking about floods of biblical proportions, answers are harder to find.
“There were some very specific things in play (in Colorado) that we don’t have in play,” Brock said.
The humid moisture coming from the South, for example, played a large role in dumping massive amounts of rain.
“Could a similar event with different causal factors happen here?” Brock asked. “There’s always the possibility.”
Many people are familiar with the terms 10-year or 100-year events, but what happened in Colorado, Brock said, was a 1,000-year event.
“We don’t even know what a 1,000-year event looks like because we don’t have the data,” he said.
These events are highly unlikely — a .1 percent chance of occurring in any given year — but are possible.
Union County Public Works Director Doug Wright said the county tries to prepare as best as they can for any type of situation, including catastrophic flooding.
“When you have the amount of rain that they had, it can happen anywhere,” Wright said.
From a public works perspective, he would work closely with Brock to follow a plan.
“It becomes doing the best you can to protect the roads, bridges, if possible, and being able to get people in and out of where they need to be,” Wright said.
Resources, however, are limited, Brock said. Getting state or federal resources could take time, especially if the disaster in question affects the western portion of the state.
“We’re kind of on our own out here,” he said. “The reality is we know that, so we need to plan for it.”
Understanding that resources are limited also means taking personal responsibility. Generally, though, emergency kits should contain the same things: food, water, and a plan for both finances and communication. Plans should also take into account the factors that pertain to each person — single people may have shorter plans, while bigger families may require a little more research and planning.
“The answer is personal preparedness,” Brock said. “A personal plan is exactly that. It’s what fits you.”