Deep snows could mean big run-off this spring
The recent heavy snowfall and predictions of a warmer-than-average spring could be the recipe for flooding in the Gunnison Valley this spring, and several local insurance agencies have reported a growing interest in homeowners flood insurance.
According to Gunnison city manager Ken Coleman, the most significant flood event in the last 25 years was in 1984 when high run-off caused the Gunnison River to spill over its banks near the west end of town, leaving standing water on West Tomichi Avenue.
"We did evacuate folks from the nursing home and had some damage on West Tomichi (Avenue), but it was a fairly undeveloped area at the time," Coleman says.
Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) manager Frank Kugel says that in 1984 the Gunnison River peaked at 7,000 cubic feet per second during the spring run-off. The peak flow is usually closer to 4,000 cubic feet per second, and the average flow is between 1,000 and 1,500. During an UGRWCD discussion on flooding on Monday, January 28, Kugel said of 1984, "In about seven days we lost 80 percent of the snowpack."
While heavy stream flows in excess of 3,000 cubic feet per second continued along the Gunnison River well over a month after the peak run-off, the standing water in Gunnison subsided in a couple of days, Coleman says.
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Properties to the east of town also experienced flooding along the banks of the Cochetopa Creek that year. UGRWCD board member Steve Schechter says the area where the Gunnison Rising annexation is currently being proposed was heavily flooded in the spring of 1984 and large pools of water formed close to the highway.
Schechter, who lives west of Gunnison, says he is considering getting insurance to protect against flood damage this spring because his house is only about five feet above Stuben Creek. "It’s a wise idea if you live near a creek," he says of flood insurance.
"The town itself has been fairly fortunate… Most areas are high and dry," Coleman says. However, he says, there have been several new developments and houses built closer to the river since the last flood incident, and property owners need to be aware of high-water risks.
Coleman says in a flood emergency the town first makes sure its citizens are safe, and then safeguards public buildings, but private residences are not the city’s concern. "Private property is something that is the responsibility of the individual owners," Coleman says. "People just have to understand where they are in relation to the floodplain."
Coleman says while the city can provide sandbags and some assistance during a flood emergency, it might be a good idea for some homeowners to get flood insurance.
According to State Farm Insurance office manager Jennifer Almgren, flood insurance is not uncommon in Gunnison County. "Basically, it covers (damage associated with) the overflow of inland or tidal waters, unusual or rapid accumulation of runoff, or surface flows and mudflows," Almgren says. She says flood insurance can run from $350 a year for low-lying areas not in an established flood plain, up to several thousand dollars per year for at-risk homes.
Valley Insurance Agency owner Keith Brennise says regular homeowners insurance covers just about everything except for earthquakes and floods. Brennise says often insurance is needed because lenders and mortgage companies require it when a building is situated inside an established flood plain.
Higher than average temperatures could have a serious effect on the rate of spring run-off, according to Schechter. "It’s really up to the temperature as to how fast it’s going to come down," Schechter says. He says ideally the warm temperatures would come slowly and would be spread out over several months. If the Gunnison Valley sees several days of warm weather this spring it could cause flooding issues, he says, because once the snow starts meting—it melts fast.
Insurance agencies are reporting interest in flood insurance is definitely on the rise. "I’ve probably done more quotes of flood insurance in the last three weeks than in the last 10 years," Almgren says.
Almgren says there is a 30-day wait between purchasing insurance and being covered in a flood incident, so if people are interested in the insurance they need to get it soon.
If insurance is out of the question, there’s always sand. Coleman says the City of Gunnison has about 9,000 sandbags on hand for flood emergencies, and Crested Butte has 900 to keep Coal Creek from flooding. Coleman says Gunnison County’s emergency management department is currently working with Gunnison and Crested Butte to get 10,000 more sandbags to protect against flooding this spring. The town of Crested Butte is planning on holding pre-flood coordination meetings in March.
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick says his town is not in any danger of flooding, but they are always close to help if any flooding occurs in Coal Creek in Crested Butte. Fitzpatrick says Coal Creek isn’t likely to flood just because of excessive stream flows, but it could easily become clogged with debris such as trees, willows, and old beaver dams.