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Colorado nonprofit provides sandbags to protect homeowners from flooding

SERVE 6.8, a Fort Collins-based nonprofit, has had an operation where they produce sandbags for homeowners for years.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Saturday saw another day of burn scar areas with flash flood watches and warnings. 

Those also included areas that just a week ago received flooding that took the lives of two people in Larimer County. 

In a press conference last week, the Larimer County Office of Emergency Management said they had been implementing flood mitigation efforts, which included the use of sand barriers. 

In The Retreat area of Glen Haven, the office considered it a "success story" with the amount of people that used the sand barriers, but noticed that getting every community to use them has its challenges. 

So we've tried to do flood protection in a lot of other areas of fire and there have been a lot of them. Many of the community members that we have spoken to about it have declined the flood barrier bags," said Lori Hodges, the Office of Emergency Management's director, on July 16. "And since it's on their property, that is up to them. So that is unfortunate if we do have more flood events, because this event really did show how the benefit of having some of those mitigation efforts next to those properties.” 

Meanwhile, a Fort Collins-based nonprofit has been working for years to produce thousands of free sandbags for homeowners in areas where the flood risk is higher. 

Credit: Larimer County OEM
Sand barriers used at a home in a flood-risk area.

"Now, what they protect in the long run with the people's property and lives, I mean, that's priceless," said Mike Walker, the executive director of SERVE 6.8

The nonprofit has been around for years, but around eight years ago they launched what's called Operation Sandbag.

Volunteers come together to produce thousands of sandbags. Walker estimates they've made around 100,000 since the program's inception. 

"So one of the things we learned back in 2013 is there was a real need for organizations to step in and do some sandbagging work because not only did we have the burn scar and then we had the 2013 flood," he said. "So we've had a series of flash flooding issues on and off over the last 10 years."

The uses range from everything from directing water flow during inevitable flooding around properties, to improving the water quality. 

"And so they'll actually stack bags to soil water. They'll allow the water to pool for a little while, and then the sediment will fall and then the water will eventually flow through and essentially the water will be cleaner," he said. 

Walker said they partner with the county to deliver the sandbags. 

Last year, he said 25,000 went up to areas where the flood risk is higher. 

This year, it was down to 15,000 shipments because Walker says demand from community members wasn't high enough. 

Credit: Courtesy of Serve 6.8
Volunteers with Serve 6.8 put together sandbags.

"So one of the first challenges is not every area has a very effective or organized, you know, homeowner's association," Walker said. "So part of our key is to help neighborhoods up there establish some effective, you know, organizational structure. And that way they can pass this communication down."

Additionally, he says more resources are needed to help homeowners that may not know how to properly install the sandbags. 

"Even if they know about them, do they actually have the help that they need, the tools they need, or even the equipment they need to get them and load them properly and use them on the property?" he said. 

Overall, he believes simply getting the message out about the impact a sandbag could have is key for now. 

"And it's not going to fix every issue, but it's going to impact many of these issues," he said. 

Currently, the nonprofit has 15 spots spread throughout Larimer County where they have pallets of sandbags dropped off in Larimer County. 

To request sandbags or learn more, click here. 

RELATED: Widespread rain prompts flood alerts in Colorado burn scars

RELATED: Family identifies mother, daughter swept away in Larimer County flooding

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