Flood Impacts Issue Summaries South Boulder Creek Flood, September 2013

This document was compiled with the help and input from numerous Frasier Meadows neighbors who experienced catastrophic flooding in September of 2013. The documented impacts represent what occurred during what is considered a 50-75 event. A significant portion of these impacts was caused by South Boulder Creek floodwater overtopping US36. It is assumed that with no action to prevent future overtopping of floodwaters, similar impacts can be expected. In a true 100-yr. event, impacts would certainly be more dramatic and widespread, including the possible loss of life.

Note:  This information is based on that compiled in November 2014 by various South Boulder Creek Action Group since the 2013 flood.

  1. Health and Safety
  2. Emotional/Mental Health Impacts
  3. Environmental Impacts
  4. Utilities Impacts
  5. Transportation
  6. Financial Impacts
  1. Health and Safety
    • Emergency (medical/rescue) vehicles/responders unable to access neighborhoods (flooded streets/highways)
    • Sewage entering lower and main levels of houses, contaminating majority of structures and contents.
    • Flood waters entering streets, yards, houses, other structures, public areas contaminated with sewage, hydrocarbons, pesticides/herbicides, other toxins
    • Residents unable to leave flooded areas to ensure safety (no road access)
    • Clean-up involves residents/contractors handling considerable amounts of contaminated and toxic materials (asbestos, sewage, electronic components, mold, mildew, etc.).  Many residents unaware of what is toxic.
    • Enormous amounts of contaminated/toxic materials deposited in landfills
    • Personal injury related to flood and clean-up
    • Utilities failures puts residents at safety risk—lack of potable water & functioning plumbing; lack of telecommunications; lack of electricity and gas (heat/AC, power, lights), lack of ability to safely procure and prepare food; leaking gas facilities.
    • Warning system failures:
      • No warning of US 36 overtopping.
      • “Reverse 911” spotty, some received no notifications despite being signed up for them.
      • Could not hear sirens above the roar of water in the streets.
    • Emergency responders put in harm’s way due to impassible streets, failed traffic signals.
  2. Emotional/Mental Health Impacts
    • Creates chaos, disrupt many lives for long periods of time
    • Such a disaster takes a toll on mental health
    • The effects on some people’s health, relationships and welfare can be extensive and sustained
    • Can pose significant social and mental health problems that may continue over extended periods of time
    • Continued rise in the prevalence of mental health disorders 2 years post-Katrina, with an increase in the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, serious mental illness and suicide ideation.
    • Significant short- and long-term impacts on psychosocial health
    • Stress, anxiety and depression, but also with a range of conditions, including dermatitis, worsening asthma, arthritis and chest infections.
  3. Environmental Impacts
    • Toxins, hazardous material/waste
      • Raw or partially raw sewage spills into homes, streets, public areas
      • Destruction of buildings containing a large array of toxic materials (paints, pesticides, gasoline, etc.) that results in the release of these materials into the environment
      • Long duration floods will exacerbate environmental problems because clean-up will be delayed and contaminants may remain in the environment for much longer time.
      • Hazardous materials disposal–high volume of flood debris results in landfill contamination by hazardous materials, illegal dumping/roadside dumping, open burning of potentially hazardous debris, etc.
      • During the September 2013 flood event, the state did relax a recent ban on hazardous electronic waste, allowing landfills to accept such items.
      • Homeowners advised to discard any flood/sewage contaminated items that couldn’t be thoroughly disinfected (e.g, carpeting, upholstered furniture, rugs, mattresses, pillows, books, wall coverings, most paper products, stuffed animals/ toys and, of course, foodstuffs).  All of this, much of which is considered hazardous ended up in the landfill.
    • Water Quality
      • Quantity of agricultural and industrial pollutants jeopardizes fluvial systems
      • Potential contamination of community water supplies
    • Natural Resources
      • Wildlife habitats physically modified and potentially contaminated with extremely toxic substances moved downstream during flooding
      • Release of household and commercial hazardous materials into the fluvial system
    • Need for Proactive Assessment of Environmental Impacts Associated with Future Flooding (to be used in decision-making re flood mitigation)
      • Environmental evaluation of future environmental flood hazards sets the stage for the strategic assessment of redeveloping flood prone areas.
      • Identify, measure, and interpret the magnitude and significance of environmental impacts associated with flooding.
      • Use of some evaluation process similar to the strategic environmental assessment (SEA).  SEA has been defined as “the formalized, systematic and comprehensive process of evaluating the environmental impacts of a policy, plan, or program, and its alternatives . . . and using the findings in publicly accountable decision-making”
  4. Utilities Impacts
    • Sanitary Sewer System
      • Mains, residential and commercial backups due to flood waters flowing into open sanitary sewer manholes and compromised pipes (infiltration through joints, seams, cracks).
      • Residential mains compromised/destroyed/crushed
      • Blown man hole covers
      • Recent lining of sewer pipes to block infiltration has resulted in groundwater levels rising as much as 15” in the Frasier Meadows area (Inca and Comanche).  More of this work is planned for the neighborhood and residents should be aware of the potential for basement flooding.  Sump pumps are advised by the City.
      • Ground water levels elevated due to storm sewers overflowing.
    • Storm water system (overwhelmed)
      • Inaccessible conveyance (Thunderbird Dr.), detention overwhelmed, limited access
      • Failed detention ponds (overflowed to residences and streets)
      • Storm water system overwhelmed by creeks flooding into open manholes.
      • Storm water lines backed up flooding ground water, ground water flooded basements.
      • Overflowing catch basins flooded homes
    • Cable/internet
      • Comcast “green box” hit by floating car
      • Flooded relays
    • Landline Phone service out in many areas
      • In-house wiring failed with flooded basements
    • Electrical
      • Outages/uncertainty regarding coverage
    • Gas meters compromised – leaked
      • Required immediate replacement
  5. Transportation
    • Major intersections impassable—US 36, Apache/Thunderbird and most feeder streets, Baseline/Foothills, Arapahoe/Foothills, etc.   Inability for emergency/rescue operations to respond where needed.  Inability to evacuate from flooded areas.  Streets/highways covered with flood debris after waters subside.
    • Considerable costs for road/street repair, particularly when utility failures require removal/replacement of streets.  Utility failures also require traffic restriction and inaccessibility of certain areas.  These are long-term disruptions.
    • Loss of bridges equals long-term transportation disruptions.
  6. Financial Impacts
    • Personal and commercial property damage—if historically this type of flooding can be expected every 18 years, this is a significant burden for 100s of personal households and commercial entities.  Many residents have spent between $25-100K+ to repair/replace homes and vehicles caused by September 2013 flooding.  City estimates $38M in property damage in Boulder’s SE neighborhoods.

      Damage to commercial properties was also significant (Frasier Meadows Retirement Community [FMRC], apartment buildings along Thunderbird). FMRC had $8M in physical damage (not including “soft costs” of evacuation, boarding displaced residents, staff overtime, etc.). According to FEMA officials, it’s the single costliest rebuild they’re aware of, among the thousands of Colorado individuals and organizations needing assistance after the flood. This is particularly burdensome on a specific geographic segment of the city when a viable solution exists (recommended alternative in South Boulder Creek Major Drainageway Plan, July 2014—Regional Detention @ US36 with Downstream Improvements alternative; see http://sbcreekactiongroup.org/)

    • Property damage to City and other utilities infrastructure—sewer, water, phone lines, gas/electricity.  The City is already having to increase storm water rates to finance long-overdue repairs and upgrades to the sewer systems in the area.
    • Soft costs (other than property damage)—These costs consist of things other than “property damage” such as evacuation and housing costs when homes/apts/businesses uninhabitable, loss of jobs/income, pet care, personal injury costs, etc. These costs are not included in the City’s estimated property damage of $38M for SE neighborhoods along South Boulder Creek.
    • Flood insurance—Flood insurance is not designed for and does not cover the majority of costs to repair finished basement living spaces.  Many of us live in homes where finished basements constitute a third to a half of our living space.  Some structures may never be repaired, leaving residents displaced and affecting long-term property values in a large segment of the City.

      Flood insurance premiums will be increasing every year.  Many of us are currently covered under the Preferred Risk Policy (PRP) extension program which has kept our premiums relatively low.  However, according to representatives from the National Flood Insurance Program, it is likely that our premiums could triple over the next few years (unless Congress takes action to delay these increases).  It is unclear how premiums will continue to rise after those significant increases.  This issue gets wrapped up w/impacts to property values (re-sale of our houses) if all residents required to maintain flood insurance are paying thousands of dollars annually in premiums.  The bottom line is that flood insurance could cost 3-4 times what our homeowners costs annually, a significant financial impact to individual residents.

    • Loss of productivity as a community—a couple of people spoke about this at the end of the OSBT meeting.  Very compelling…financial damage doesn’t just occur to property.  The loss of income-producing productivity we all experienced during/after the flood translates to a considerable amount of money and should be part of the equation.  Recovery efforts went on for many of us for weeks/mos; for some it is still on-going.  Many had to take time off without pay, small and large businesses who had damage and/or lost days of income etc.  Many lost their jobs.  Frasier Meadows lost 48 permanent jobs due to the reduction of building space.