Emergency management officials urge Summit County homeowners to prepare for spring flooding

Burned logs float in the Colorado River after a flash flood caused a major debris slide in Glenwood Canyon, bringing rocks, mud and debris into the river July 22, 2021. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials urge Colorado homeowners to purchase flood insurance as scorched earth from wildfires will likely contribute to floods.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

As mud season approaches, emergency preparedness officials are urging Colorado homeowners to revisit their flood insurance plans.

Although Colorado isn’t typically known for flooding, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat. The continued rise in wildfires over the past few years have led to more frequent floods and mudslides, which are often caused by rain on scorched earth.

Those mudslides can lead to debris and water flowing into buildings down the slope of burn sites, said Diana Herrera, a regional flood insurance specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 8 office in Denver.

“When those wildfires hit, it changes the soil composition to the point where it doesn’t absorb water,” she said. “Any rain that comes down just runs off like it does concrete.”

Because of the impact of wildfires, it’s important for people to be prepared for a flood. The best way to do that is to purchase flood insurance, Herrera said.

FEMA offers up to $250,000 in property as well as $100,000 in content flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. Often that’s not enough for Summit County homeowners, whose properties are valued at much more than $250,000. Herrera said the best course for people with high property values is to purchase additional insurance on the private market.

Doug Berg, a Summit County insurance agent, said the best first step for a person to take when looking to buy flood insurance is to reach out to their current home insurance provider.

“Just based upon where they live and what flood zone they fall into, rates can vary dramatically,” Berg said.

In October, FEMA implemented new flood insurance rules, called Risk Rating 2.0, which evaluate properties based on around 15 characteristics. The goal is to assess the individual risks a property faces rather than lumping all properties in a certain flood plain into one insurance rate, Herrera said.

The new rating system means different rates for each property owner. Herrera said 60% of Colorado homeowners saw their insurance costs decrease under the new rules.

“What we have done with Risk Rating 2.0 is instead of getting together a global type of rating system, (we’re) bringing it into the individual risk,” Herrera said.

It’s also important to keep in mind that flood insurance policies don’t start coverage until 30 days after they are purchased. So homeowners should think ahead if they’re interested in buying flood insurance plans, FEMA spokesperson Phil Wernisch said.

While insurance is important, there are other ways Summit County residents can prepare for floods. As with wildfires, it’s important for residents to make an evacuation plan.

Included in the evacuation plan should be a designated location for important documents so they are easy to grab as well as an identified second location for anyone who is not at the home at the time of the disaster, Herrera said. It’s also important for homeowners to create an inventory list of all the items in their house and save that list in a secure location so they can refer to it when doing insurance claims later.

“Make sure somebody has a copy of your inventory,” Herrera said. “I can tell you, when something happens, you are not going to remember: How many towels did I have? How many pots and pans did I have? How many shoes are in my closet?”

As the snow begins to melt, property owners can also do a number of things to prepare their homes for floods. Herrera suggested creating a ring around the property’s building without debris or trees to create space for when there’s water runoff. It’s also important to clear old leaves and pine needles from rain gutters and ensure sump pumps are working properly with a backup generator or batteries.

FEMA provides more information on how to prepare for disasters at Ready.gov, Herrera said.