Improved Levees, Cost or Investment?

Photos and Video by Russ Baldwin

The levee system throughout Prowers County is coming under review by FEMA engineers, conducting a coast-to-coast mapping of potential flood plains and an assessment of the flood risk in Prowers County. This is part of a national study which began two years ago to reform the National Flood Insurance Program. The study will determine which of the levees in Prowers County are designated accredited and will prevent the flow of water into protected areas during a 100 year storm/flood. The non-accredited levees are determined as being not sufficient in construction to prevent water from flowing into protected areas during the same flood scenario. The study also takes into consideration, culverts, bridges, irrigation diversions, embankments and earthen berms.

The June 23 meeting at the county commissioner’s office was attended by Jerene DeBono and Martin Jensen, members of the Granada Town Board, county commissioners, Bobby Ward, the Lamar Code Inspection Officer, Mary Root, County Land Use Administrator, FEMA members and Thuy Patton from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The FEMA mapping team is studying flood plains in each city and the county, with and without levee protection. The study will also convert all existing and new maps into a digital mode for uniform computer access. The FEMA engineers asked for the meeting to update local municipalities on the status of their study and to make recommendations based on their new information.

A non-accredited levee poses several risks, the engineering team said. The potential for flooding is increased, as well as a greater flood plain area, which increases the need for local emergency planning. The National Flood Insurance Program also takes note of the increased risk, which translates into higher insurance premiums or the inability to get adequate insurance coverage for current or planned buildings in the flood plain areas. Commissioner Henry Schnabel brought up how the flow of the Arkansas River should be improved in the next couple of years, once the tamarisk removal project is completed and the dead growth is removed from the river banks and some low-lying areas. The county is in the second of a three-year eradication project for tamarisk removal between Granada and the Kansas state line. Engineer Troy Carmenn replied that can help, but it’s also contingent on the size and scope of a flood. If waters are several feet above flood stage, the tamarisk growth may only impact the water height by a foot or less. He said variable factors come into play and gave an example of the installation of a larger culvert on a small stream. That would improve the flood status for that particular area of a community. Another larger example is the new bridge being installed south of Holly. The improved water flow would go a long way to creating safer flood conditions.

Lamar is facing some improvements as witnessed by the recent flooding of College Road and Woodland Park Road. Both were blocked from traffic from the flooding caused by the June 20 rains. City code inspector, Bobby Ward, said that he’ll make a presentation of the city’s levees to the council in the near future. He asked the engineers, based on the fact there’s no record of certification of the city’s levees, what will be the bottom line cost of getting them certified. He was told the figure is variable depending on the type of improvements needed for the levees in each community. Another area requiring attention is the canal running north and east from the city, which originates directly opposite the Parkview School and the swimming pool. Commissioner Gene Millbrand commented on economic development impact that a large or reduced flood plain could make to a community. He said that few business development loans, if any, could be generated to finance a new venture if the only available land is on a flood plain.

By Russ Baldwin


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