Logan County Water Conservancy District wants input in FEMA flood maps

Inaccuracy in flood plain maps can hinder development

By Jeff Rice


Journal-Advocate staff writer

POSTED:   01/17/2018 04:53:16 PM MST


Map shows boundaries of the Logan County Water Conservancy District, which is essentially the Pawnee Creek drainage. The Pawnee empties into the South Platte at the far right side of the map.

The Logan County Water Conservancy District wants to have input into the rewriting of flood plain maps, especially in the area between Sterling and Atwood.

The accuracy of flood plain maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — or lack thereof — has long been an issue of contention. While some experts complain that the FEMA maps don’t accurately reflect local topography, thus unnecessarily hindering development in areas that had flooded in the past, others insist that local efforts to minimize flood danger actually makes flooding worse when it does happen.

The FEMA maps are important to the LCWCD because the district was formed specifically to mitigate flooding in the Pawnee Creek drainage area of Logan and Weld Counties.

The centerpiece of the district’s efforts is a proposed dam 131 feet high and 6,800 feet long across the Pawnee about a mile north of where the creek passes under Colorado Highway 14, 11 miles west of Sterling. In the case of a flood along the order of the 1997 event, which flooded southern parts of Sterling, the dam would hold back about 90,000 acre-feet of water.

While the district is not allowed to store water long-term — floodwaters would have to be released as soon as possible via Pawnee Creek — the dam could be used by other entities to store their water.

The stretch of the South Platte between Atwood and Sterling is important to the group because that’s where the Pawnee empties into the main river.

In a Skype meeting with the district’s board on Wednesday Danielle Tripp, an engineer with W.W. Wheeler & Associates in Englewood, said the flood plain maps she has seen, especially in the Atwood area, are less accurate than they should be.

“They’re more approximate than specific,” Tripp said of the existing maps. “In some areas, where people have taken it on themselves to do cross-sections of the land, they’re pretty accurate, but there are areas that don’t take into account changes in topography.”

Levi Williamson, the district’s legal counsel, said the flood plain maps are crucial because lenders and others depend on them for requiring flood insurance.

“That’s what makes this so frustrating,” Williamson said, referring to the spotty accuracy of the FEMA maps. “People have no choice but to pay for flood insurance, but what if you’re not actually in any danger of being flooded?”

Brad McCloud, the board’s project consultant, echoed the sentiment that the inaccuracies pose “a hindrance to development.”

While no action was taken Wednesday on the issue, the board will continue to research how it can be involved in the ongoing effort to update the maps.

The board also discussed the possibility of taking on a part-time executive director. A job description and other details of the part-time position will be worked out in workshop meetings in the near future.

The board also needs to fill an empty director’s seat that was vacated late last year when director Gene Miller abruptly resigned. The board consists of three directors. Board President Shane Miller (no relation) said directors could expect to spend about five to seven hours a month on district business, including the monthly meetings.

Jeff Rice: 970-526-9283, ricej@journal-advocate.com