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We've heard of taking precautions in advance of a flood -- folks along the Mississippi, in concert with the Army Corps of Engineers, have been doing just that all week.

But declaring an official disaster ahead of time and collecting government aid for prevention instead of salvage and repairs seems a novel -- and sensible -- approach.

As Cyndy Cole has reported, that's what Coconino County officials have done in anticipation of flooding again this summer below the Schultz burn area west of Highway 89. Because they know it is going to happen, why wait to apply for funds that might be better spent now flood-proofing roads and properties?

An agency like the Army Corps is in the business, essentially, of disaster prevention. It builds levees and canals in the hope of diverting floodwaters away from settled areas. The billions it spends each year presumably is money that won't be needed after the floodwaters subside, although this year the volume of water in the Mississippi has proved more than the Corps had ever bargained for.

In neighborhoods like Timberline and Fernwood, residents have a year's experience to build on, even if permanent canals and barriers have yet to be built. All can buy flood insurance, although policies likely are more expensive now that insurers know the hazards. Last year, county and state agencies were eligible for federal disaster relief to pay for road repairs and new canals but not homeowners -- the total cost of private damage did not cross the threshold needed to trigger the FEMA grants.

In all, about 85 homes suffered direct flood damage and hundreds of other properties saw yards, driveways and corrals washed away. The county spent about $4.5 million in flood relief on public property, but much more is needed on the west side of the highway, which is closer to the steep, bare slopes that send monsoon rainwater in fast-moving torrents toward Highway 89.

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Once on the east side of the highway, the terrain flattens out and the water is more easily corralled. A mile-long canal has already been built, along with 8-foot-high berms in the Cinder Hills aimed at channeling floodwaters into a planned holding basin.

But west of the highway, where the terrain is steeper, homeowners are in a Catch-22: They can put up sandbags and concrete barriers around their houses, but without coordination, they risk being inundated because of flood channeling by upstream neighbors. Meanwhile, their own barriers threaten their downstream neighbors as well.

The county, in applying for advance disaster relief from the state, hopes to finance the purchase of more barriers and coordinate the work, too. A permanent flood-control system is still at least a year away, but experts predict that summer runoff will continue to be heavy for at least four more years. We urge the state to act quickly on the county's funding application and for the temporary barriers to be installed immediately -- the monsoon is less than two months away.

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