Updated floodway mapping in Creede could change flood insurance requirements


CREEDE — FEMA flood insurance prices may go down for many Creede property owners pending the approval of a proposed Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) for Willow Creek, according to the Headwaters Alliance.

A LOMR is a modification made by FEMA to the Flood Insurance Rate Map or Flood Boundary and Floodway Map or both. The modification is based on new information or new infrastructure that changes the hydrology or hydraulic characteristics.

In this case, the new information was a combination of updated hydrological information provided by Wood Engineering in 2019 and a levee investigation completed by Davis Engineering in 2020. The final LOMR application was submitted to FEMA in summer 2021, and is expected to be approved later in the year.

The importance of maintaining an adequate floodway cannot be overstated, according to HWA officials. Floodways are the interface between a river and the land adjacent to it. The key function of a floodway, or floodplain, is to dissipate the tremendous energy of high flow events and floods to reduce negative impacts to adjacent land. A well-designed stream and floodway allow adequate space — depth and width — for the higher volume of water in high-flow events while minimizing harmful movement of material and maintaining functional riparian processes.

The new floodway map for Willow Creek begins from above the levee pond in North Creede to the terminus of the flume at the south end of Creede. If approved, the new map designates the areas situated in the floodway — specifically, the narrow zone around Willow Creek extending along the flume to the lower Willow Creek floodplain. If FEMA accepts this LOMR, the area within the flume will change from a Zone A to a Zone AE and will still require flood insurance. The majority of town properties that are situated outside the flume corridor will change from a Zone A to a Zone X. There is no mandatory flood insurance for Zone X.

While flood insurance may no longer be mandatory for many home and business owners, it is still recommended by FEMA. Human infrastructure may have changed the floodplain within the City of Creede, but it is and will continue to be a location that can experience high water flows, seen most recently during the 2019 high water event. Given the proposed new maps, however, costs should be lower given the reduced flood risk. For the best information, contact your insurance agent, the same person who helps with home or auto insurance.

“This project has been long in the making, with many partners including Colorado Water Conservation Board, Davis Engineering, Wood Engineering and the City of Creede working together to arrive at a thoroughly vetted and rigorous proposed LOMR. HWA has been committed to moving this project to completion because of the direct financial savings it will have for many residents and businesses, and to ensure this key information is integrated into all future stream work,” said Heather Greenwolf, Executive Director of HWA.

The Willow Creek LOMR is part of a larger floodplain mapping project for the Rio Grande. In the aftermath of the 2013 floods in the Front Range, the Colorado State Legislature moved to update floodplain maps for many communities across Colorado to reduce the harm caused to people and infrastructure by floods and facilitate improved planning and zoning activities. Wood Engineering completed the Rio Grande Hydrologic Analysis in 2020 and is in the process of completing all necessary materials to submit a Conditional Letter of Map Revision to FEMA.

A CLOMR is a letter from FEMA commenting on whether a proposed project, if built as proposed, or proposed hydrology changes, would meet minimum National Flood Insurance Program standards. The newly proposed Floodway Zone for the Rio Grande represents the Best Current Data and will ideally enable improved decision making for building in the riparian corridor along the Rio Grande. Mineral County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program and will be required to enforce the new Floodway Map once it comes into effect as a requirement of the program.

Pending FEMA’s final decision regarding the Willow Creek LOMR, HWA is working with WaterVation, an engineering company out of Salida, on a stream stability and flood mitigation project in North Creede, and finalizing the design with Matrix Design Group for the lower Willow Creek floodplain as part of the Comprehensive Willow Creek Watershed Planning Project. Both projects are informed by the updated hydrology and will further mitigate flood impacts on Willow Creek. HWA expects to begin construction on the lower Willow Creek floodplain stream restoration in late summer 2022.

“Central to the Comprehensive Willow Creek Watershed Plan is the goal of identifying the best data available, making it readily accessible to anyone working on river related projects on Willow Creek or the Rio Grande and integrating these best practices across projects, to facilitate the best possible outcomes in our community,” said Greenwolf  “We have made all current and past reports related to Willow Creek, Rio Grande, Nelson Tunnel and more available on our website (headwatersalliance.com) to aid individuals in accessing the resources they need. We welcome all conversations to support environmentally sustainable projects in our pristine region.”

The updated hydrology for Willow Creek and Rio Grande underscore the importance of attending to both water quality and water quantity at the mountain headwaters of the Rio Grande. HWA will continue implementing projects that address the legacy mining impacts within the Historic Creede Mining District of Willow Creek, provide stewardship programming including the development of low-environmental impact recreation opportunities, environmental education and volunteer programs, and secure long-term water sustainability at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

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