As last weekend demonstrated around the High Park Fire burn area, Wellington and a portion of Spring Creek in Fort Collins, heavy rain can quickly bring floodwater to normally placid streams and areas where high water has not been seen before.
Yet relatively few residents or businesses are prepared for flooding and the financial storms that can follow, officials say. As little as an inch of floodwater can cause thousands of dollars in damage that is not covered by homeowner's insurance policies.
Flood insurance covers most types of damage, including replacing flooring, electrical wiring, walls and appliances, but most homeowners do not have it.
"Anybody who lives in this town should think about flooding and should think about buying flood insurance," said Brian Varrella, a floodplain administrator with Fort Collins Utilities.
Flood insurance may be bought through a private insurance agency but is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Premium costs vary depending on the level of risk.
The average cost of a policy is about $600 a year, according the National Flood Insurance Program's Website, floodsmart.gov. But for low-risk areas, the annual premium can be $129 to $300 for a residential property.
Policies on commercial properties are higher, depending on risk.
Risk on the rise
Flooding is the most common type of natural disaster in the United States, said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
About 25 percent of claims paid annually through the flood insurance program come from areas that are rated low to moderate risk for flooding. Flood insurance is required by federally regulated lenders that hold mortgages on properties in FEMA-designated floodplains.
Otherwise, it's an option that homeowners need to pursue on their own, Walker said.
Of particular local concern are areas affected by the High Park Fire, said Norm Ashford, an insurance specialist with FEMA in Denver. Areas hit by wildfire can be prone to flooding for several years because trees and grass that typically absorb or slow water are gone.
The ground itself can be "glazed" by extremely high temperatures, making it nearly impervious to water. Steep slopes can increase the risk for flooding where it typically does not occur, he said.
"The danger for loss of property escalates considerably," Ashford said.
Coverage usually goes into effect 30 days after purchase of a policy. However, federal legislation signed into law last week would give residents living in burn areas a waiver of the 30-day rule if certain conditions exist.
Cleaning up after a flood is a daunting task, said Jim Simpson, an owner of Affordable Restoration in Fort Collins. The company was called in to assist homeowners in Fort Collins and Wellington following the weekend's torrential rainstorms and spotty flooding.
Simpson, a former insurance adjuster, said property owners choose not to buy flood insurance because they don't believe they are likely to get flooded. In the last five years, he's worked with one customer with flood insurance.
When flooding comes, a timely response - as in less than 24 hours - is critical for limiting the amount of damage to walls, flooring and insulation, he said.
Getting an inch of water out of a room quickly can be the difference in costing $2,500 to $15,000 to dry it out, he said.
Flood insurance policies cover structures and contents. But they do not cover the contents of basements, a fact many homeowners don't realize, Simpson said.
"It's heartbreaking to say to them that none of this is covered," he said.
Fort Collins traces its roots to a Poudre River flood in 1864 that wiped out Camp Collins near the mouth of Poudre Canyon.
The military post was moved east to higher ground near present-day Old Town and Fort Collins was established.
Floods in the city have not been limited to the river. The Spring Creek flood of 1997 killed five residents and caused about $200 million in property damage.
Following the 1997 flood, city officials established a network of automated rainfall gauges and streamflow monitors. The system alerts stormwater crews in real time about the potential for flooding.
Last weekend, when water spilled from an irrigation ditch in Rolland Moore Community Park into Spring Creek, crews worked all night to ensure stormwater facilities were working properly.
Varrella, whose rented home suffered damage in the Spring Creek flood, said the city is ranked seventh out of the 1,200 communities that participate in FEMA's Community Rating System. The ranking allows residents to receive discounts on flood insurance premiums, he said.
Varrella said city officials would like to see more residents and businesses participate in the flood insurance program.
Records indicate 416 properties in the city are covered by flood insurance; of those, 117 are in floodplains.
About 6,000 properties in the city are in or near floodplains and are considered at risk.
"I recommend that everybody buy it," he said. "People should think of it as an investment in their homes."
Written by Kevin Duggan
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