Colorado: Day 2 and Day 3

Yesterday I spent much of the day reading about various facets of the floods, and getting a “lay of the land” here Boulder — something I normally do before I head out to do research, but thanks to the juggling back home had to wait till I got here. With some help, again, from Celeste as well as comments from a few of her colleagues, I am getting all sorts of ideas for blogging about this disaster during recovery. Property issues, as always, remain foremost in my mind, but there are a few things intersecting with property that I’ll be exploring. As I work through these issues, I hope the many people I’m meeting here in Boulder will feel comfortable emailing me ( or contacting me via twitter (@LJH1969) with ideas.

Before continuing, I want to say a special thank you to the group of students who met with me this morning in the Women and Gender Studies department here at CU-Boulder. We had a nice discussion and they gave me plenty of food for thought (which is reflected below). I sincerely hope that if any of them are reading this right now, they will feel comfortable emailing me with ideas or anecdotes as they pop up. And thanks to Celeste Montoya for setting that conversation up for me!

In the meantime, some things I’m exploring:

First, the change in course in the St. Vrain remains a special interest. That it re-routed itself through neighborhoods and that there are questions concerning whether it should be put back on its original course are policy questions that will impact homeowners and other property owners — but I’m also interested in the idea that we think we can control where a river runs. Or should control where a river runs. Along the Mississippi, we’re used to hearing the Corps describe its “river training structures.” It’s also common to hear people anthropomorphize the river in statements such as, “Old Man River will do what he wants.” The point being, it’s hard to control a force of nature. I’m curious to know more about the history of the St. Vrain, whether such a course redirection has happened before (during a flood, perhaps?), and what the natural history as well as the human history of the area can tell us about all of this.

For those of you who read the post from the first day in Colorado, I thought you might find this YouTube video of Longmont during the flood of some interest. If you look carefully, you’ll see some of the same areas I photographed.

Second, this morning the students I met with gave me several ideas. One of their chief concerns, perhaps not surprisingly, has to do with the way landlords are handling the damage to rental properties, price gouging, and the complexities of making FEMA claims among roommates. While many don’t think of renters as property owners, they do in fact have some form of property in their leases and rental agreements. Which means they do have rights.

Of course, this becomes complicated when more than one person is living in a home. Imagine how much more complicated this becomes when you’re parsing disaster damage claims among several young people, all of whom are juggling school and jobs, some of whom may or may not be on the lease as the official renter. Figuring out how to hire a lawyer, finding the money to do so, and then taking the time to deal with the situation is a bit overwhelming.

Imagine, too, what this would be like for someone who is not a student, but is renting, juggling child-raising (possibly as a single parent, or with a spouse who is also having to work) with a job or maybe two, and trying to figure out how to get a landlord to fix flood damage. I want to understand these dynamics a little better, and will be looking into the programs and processes set up to help renters through this process.

There is a series of YouTube Videos made by bouldercoloradogov that might of be of interest to anyone who is concerned with these issues. They are recordings of hearings held with the city council, and include information concerning renters rights, mediation services for landlord/tenant disputes, and other interesting issues. For those of interested in politics and law, they are also full of street-level bureaucracy and the politics of property.

The students and I also discussed some of the issues that arose with the homeless population in the days following the flood and gave me some great ideas about how to pursue questions concerning not only property owners but those who are propertyless. By homeless, here, I mean those who were without homes before the floods. Many of the public spaces where they slept or spent time were badly damaged in the flooding. While there are shelters set up, I would like to know more about what is happening to some of our most vulnerable population.

FEMA fraud as well as other criminal activities have also been mentioned to me more than once in the last couple of days. Taking advantage of the situation or taking advantage of victims of the situation appears to be, as it often is, a feature of the post-disaster context here in Boulder. We also discussed, ever so briefly, FEMA maps and flood insurance — that is going to be a perennial issue here at DPP. For those of you interested in flood plain mapping, here’s the Boulder Flood Plain Map:


While I’m thinking about all of these things, I’m also planning to visit a couple of other communities that were hit hard in the mountains. This is a little complicated given that so many of the roads remain closed. But I’ll see what I can do.


Colorado Update

I’m preparing to go to Colorado in a couple of weeks to do some reporting and writing about the disaster from there. I’ll be heading out November 3rd and will be there for a week. In the meantime, I thought a brief update was in order on the situation:

The Denver Post is reporting that over 300 immigrants remain homeless after the flood because many of them do not qualify for government aid. They were living in trailers or apartments in areas such as Evans, Milliken and Longmont. Apparently, many are in the country without documents, but others lost important documents in the floods. Click here for the story.

One of the issues faced by people living in the mountains is that first they have been hit by two disasters in short succession. First they had fires, and then they had a major flood. Even before the floods last month, flash floods running off the burned up hillsides has resulted in mudflows and severe erosion in several areas. This problem was exacerbated by the storm last month. The had covered this story on September 25th.  The impact on mountain residents is severe. In the meantime, drought, fire and climate change, says the National Geographic, all may have contributed to the Colorado flooding. NPR reports flood forensics suggest that mud and rock slides have caused serious erosion in several areas. Digging out of roads, bridges and homes will be costly and take time.

A couple of weeks ago, Colorado State’s Climate Center has launched a website devoted to the floods. It contains storm facts, timelines, photos of the damage as well as satellite and radar imagery.  They also include a Resources page here that includes flood highway updates.

FEMA has issued a statement titled, “Colorado Flooding One Month Later: Positive Signs of Recovery.” Among other pieces of information and links to their various activities, FEMA reports county-by-county breakdown of state and federal grants.

A financial disaster emerged in the wake of the Colorado floods for many food victims because many homeowners did not have flood insurance. The USA Today reported back on September 16th that only 22,000 homes and business had flood insurance (mostly residential policies). Before being too appalled at that figure, it may be good to check to see if your flood insurance is up to date. NBC News Business reports that only 18% of Americans have any kind of flood insurance. Many do not even realize they need it, or they think they have it but don’t. (For more information on flood insurance visit