Water Hazards

goose tracks 0419
Geese have been trespassing on our lot. The nerve!

It is snowing. Again. Still. It is snowing and it seems as though it will never stop. We need the moisture. At this point, though, don’t we think it could rain? April showers and all that?

Our Some Day HOA president sent out to Riverwalk lot owners the county’s warning about flooding this spring, suggesting people consider flood insurance. The president’s note also noted that 30 percent of floods take place outside of designated flood plains.

This president, Mr. Leonard, lives with his wife in the house nearest to the one we’re building. (There’s a vacant lot between us, so far — like most of the lots in Riverwalk — unbuilt-upon.) I see him, or his wife, or their dog Maggie (Oz and she generally act like they’re going to be friends) sometimes out at Riverwalk, but he volunteers with the food pantry, and I seem, these days, to be running into him often by the pantry as I am headed to work.

Yesterday, outside the pantry, we discussed the possibility of flooding. He is one of two “old-timers” at Riverwalk, having lived out there longer than anyone but the Cattles family. (That’s their last name — historically there were probably lots of cattles living on this former pasture.) It’s still not a long institutional memory: the Leonards have lived out there about seven years.

He thought our two lots would probably be out of harm’s way if flooding along the Gunnison River does occur. Sandbags might be required, he thought.

I once helped Wenona, a co-worker from the newspaper, sandbag her house, hard by the river at the west end of town, and here is the problem with sandbags: you have to go somewhere with the sand once the flooding or flood danger has passed. I used to raft the Gunnison frequently, and every time I floated past Wenona’s house, for years, there was a pile of sandbags moldering into a messy heap of sand alongside her house.

Not that this is a reason to not sandbag, but the thought of starting out a new house with a giant heap of sand that needs to go somewhere fills me with ennui (so does snow, by the way).

But the thought of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new construction and not making some provision for potential flooding is not enticing, either. Mr. Leonard has looked into flood insurance, and he said he was told it would cost $2,800 for his house. His insurance agent did say it could be pro-rated if he cancelled in, say, September, so the cost might not be quite that much.

Reasonably, flood insurance cannot be purchased at the moment of need. One’s policy must be in place 30 days before any water, or need, arises. The year I graduated college, 1984, the Gunnison flooded and imperiled several houses downriver of Wenona. I was part of a large group that went out to help sandbag one of the houses. (Here’s a tip from a veteran: wear long sleeves — sandbags will abrade your skin.) That flooding, then, took place in early to mid-May, so we could be 30 days out now. Today.

Although the longer it snows the colder it remains, and the difference that makes can be seen on our roof: last week when the sun shone and the temperature heated up, half of the snow still on the roof slid off in massive, sudden chunks. This week, with cloud cover and slowly warming temps, water has been trickling off the roof instead.

So there’s no way to know. One summer we didn’t reach high water until August, although traditionally the river crests the first weekend of June. (That’s been moving into May with the climate change that isn’t real.)

I made sure, as Lynn and I looked at both in-town lots and the one at Riverwalk, to check the county’s floodplain maps before we bought anything. Our lot, which is separated from the river by a road and and another one-acre lot, is well removed from both the 100- and 500-year lines. The river itself, which last year was at a fraction of normal flows due to drought (we need the moisture), runs four or five feet below the bank. So we seem safe. Until the weather turns all at once and the entire snowpack gushes out of the high country in one fell swoop. Or one rapid rise.

And, it turns out, that’s not our only water concern. One of the first things Mr. Leonard ever said to me was that his crawlspace fills with water every spring, necessitating a sump pump. Yesterday, he offered more detail: when the pond that borders the south end of our lots fills, so does his crawlspace.

Now, our contractor Dusty is highly confident of his crawlspaces and drainages. We toured one of his houses that is in the West Gunnison floodplain (which covers a large number of houses in town), with a very high water table. So far, that crawlspace has remained dry. But it’s worth mentioning, which we will do when we meet with him this afternoon.

When you don’t use it, insurance seems like a horrible waste of money. It’s always expensive, and if you do go to use it, it always seems to cover less than you thought. No matter what kind of insurance. But here’s how it works when you don’t have it:

Last year, a young woman who worked for me graduated from Western and planned to return to her home state of Delaware. In preparation, her boyfriend quit his job, which came with numerous benefits, including health insurance. He did not bother to make any provision to continue that insurance or seek a new individual policy. He was 25(ish) and in great health — why would he need to spend the money?

One week — one week — after his insurance lapsed, he lifted his girlfriend in a bear hug. And his knee broke. Okay, not the knee itself, but ligament(s) and cartilage — it was a mess. And while he initially thought some public program would assist him, that turned out not to be the case. He learned the hard way that knee repair runs to the tens of thousands of dollars, which he didn’t have. A year later, his mobility impaired, his knee is still in bad shape — a lifelong injury that could have been easily taken care had it happened just one week earlier.

(I mean, I could go on several days’ worth of rants about the American health care system, but let’s just leave it there for now. I am, after all, talking about moisture instead.)

So. Pony up a few thousand dollars to protect a multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar investment? The answer seems easy when put that way, but there’s still the matter of finding those few thousand — and always, in the back of one’s head, wondering how at-risk we are. Not to mention that someone then has to do the legwork of searching out a policy, making sure it really covers something (I’ve heard those horror stories out of the South about people’s houses being washed away, only to learn that their flood insurance didn’t actually cover a dang thing), and getting it in place 30 days ahead of any rushing, or seeping, water.

And it’s snowing, and here I am, filled with ennui. Wish me luck.

This is a song about rain. I’m unaware of any song that starts “Here comes the snow again.”

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