February Nature Almanac: River otters resurge in Boulder County – Boulder Daily Camera

The river otter is a Colorado state threatened species that looks to be making a comeback in Boulder County, including in St. Vrain Creek.

A sleek brown body surged through the water. A broad head turned, and curious eyes surveyed the astounded onlookers. A muskrat? A mink? No, a river-otter! After an absence of almost half a century, they are coming back.

Source: February Nature Almanac: River otters resurge in Boulder County – Boulder Daily Camera

 

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Next Planning and Zoning Commission Meeting 1/24/18

The next Planning and Zoning commission meeting is scheduled for 7pm on January 24th at the Civic Center (350 Kimbark Street) where the commission will continue to go over the Land Development Code.

The agenda for the P&Z meeting states that “no substantive changes are proposed to [the sections of the Development Code dealing with protection of rivers/streams/wetlands/riparian areas and habitat and species protection] pending the Open Space and Trails Master Plan and Wildlife Management Plan updates, plus ongoing work on Resilient St. Vrain and the St. Vrain Blueprint.” HOWEVER, it would be good for P&Z to hear support for maintaining the 150-foot riparian setback, closing loopholes to the 150-foot setback in the Development Code, and strengthening protections for open space and natural areas, including the St. Vrain Creek corridor.

Please consider speaking during the Public Invited to Be Heard section of the meeting. You may also email City Planning and Development Services Director Joni Marsh to submit written comments.

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Land Development Code Updates Open For Public Comments

The City of Longmont is currently updating its Land Development Code (chapter 15 of the Longmont Municipal Code) and taking public comment. Comments can be submitted to the Longmont Planning and Development Services Department via phone by calling 303-651-8330, via email by writing to longmont.planning@longmontcolorado.gov or by filling out this online form.

The Land Development Code contains requirements relating to development in the city, including the 150-foot setback for development/redevelopment along St. Vrain Creek and minimizing light pollution in areas of important wildlife habitat. The entire Municipal Code, including the Land Development Code can be read here.

Though these are good first steps, the Land Development Code’s protections for St. Vrain Creek and other sensitive wildlife habitats within the city could be strengthened by:

  • Expressly prohibiting artificial lighting within Longmont’s greenways, open spaces, and riparian corridors;
  • Establishing light fixture shielding requirements and vegetation buffers to minimize the impacts of light and noise pollution from nearby development on greenways, open spaces, and riparian corridors;
  • Restricting building heights adjacent to riparian areas; and
  • Minimizing the amount of impervious materials that contribute to storm-water runoff (e.g. concrete sidewalks and parking lots) near streams and other bodies of water.

We urge you to submit comments in support of stronger protections for Longmont’s natural areas, especially the St. Vrain Creek riparian corridor.

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Variance Requests for Development

On Wednesday, October 25th, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard a development request for the Harvest Junction shopping center regarding an 8-foot variance to the 150-foot riparian setback required by the City Code. It was clear from the discussion that many questions could have been answered if staff from the city’s Department of Natural Resources had been present at the meeting. Such questions involved the ecology of the riparian area, the reasoning behind the setback, and the work being done as part of the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project.

Currently, there is no procedure in place to refer variance requests to the Department of Natural Resources when the request may impact a natural area such as the St. Vrain Creek corridor. In order to learn of variance requests, the Department of Natural Resources must either hear of it through word of mouth or through another informal channel.

It doesn’t strike Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek as productive for the left hand to not know what the right is doing when it’s the left hand that has the needed expertise. Therefore, we suggest that a standard operating procedure be put into place requiring the Department of Natural Resources be consulted when variances are requested that may impact wildlife or sensitive ecological areas such as the St. Vrain corridor.

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Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came.

In the years leading up to Hurricane Harvey, a wrinkle in the federal flood-mapping system helped a company build homes in an at-risk Houston suburb.

Source:

Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came.

This recently posted New York Times article (12/2/17) shows that many of the homes and businesses that were damaged in Houston, TX, had been “lifted out of” the flood plain by filling in low-lying areas with dirt.

While the damages from the 2013 Longmont flood didn’t result from infilling, this article does raise questions about whether “taking an area out of the flood plain” is truly possible.

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St. Vrain Economic Development Blueprint

At the moment, the St. Vrain economic development blueprint is slated to go before Longmont city council this coming Tuesday, October 17th.

It is Stand with Our St. Vrain Creek’s opinion that any economic development plan should not be approved until flood recovery and mitigation efforts have been completed or, at the least, all flood recovery and mitigation planning has been decided upon.

We’re asking people to attend the council meeting at the Civic Center this Tuesday and perhaps to speak in support of holding off on approval of the plan. Supporters of the creek are encouraged to wear blue.

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Longmont Sustainability Forum

This is your opportunity to meet the candidates for Longmont’s mayoral and city council races!

Join Sustainable Resilient Longmont and Eco-cycle to hear mayoral and city council candidates answer questions about their views on sustainability issues. The forum will be held from 6:30pm to 8:30pm on Wednesday, October 11th at the Longmont Public Library (409 4th Avenue Longmont CO 80501).

Go to srlongmont.org or contact info@srlongmont.org for more information.

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St. Vrain Blueprint Update

The St. Vrain Blueprint (note that the web site for the blueprint is out of date with the last version of the document being from March, 2017) is a plan for economic development along St. Vrain Creek in Longmont. The blueprint has been slated to go before City Council on Tuesday, September 26th at 7:00pm. However, because the Council is currently going through budget discussions, the blueprint presentation may be delayed until the October 3rd or even the October 10th council meeting.

Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek recommends that any development/redevelopment plan not be adopted before plans for flood mitigation via Resilient St. Vrain are finalized, including where monies to complete the unfunded stretches of the river corridor will be acquired. It just does not make sense to think about the future of development along the river corridor when it’s still uncertain what the corridor will look like following construction and when other documents that should be taken into account, such as the Wildlife Management Plan, haven’t yet been completed.

Stay tuned regarding when the Blueprint will be brought before the council and please consider attending to show your support for balancing economic interests against wildlife and health and human safety concerns.

 

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Why are federal flood maps so flawed? — High Country News

Lewis County, Washington, experienced flooding of farmland, highways and houses in 2007.

Washington State Department of Transportation

Last week, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston. The scale of the tragedy shocked even the National Weather Service. But perhaps the most shocked set of people is the 40 to 50 percent of Houstonians who live outside Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mapped high-risk flood zones and yet still found their living rooms underwater.

FEMA’s maps represent the government’s best estimates of flood plains. They hold a lot of power: When property isn’t included on FEMA’s “magical map,” its residents aren’t required to buy flood insurance. This tends to impart a false sense of security, says Rob Moore, senior water policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why these flood maps lead to such risky behavior and have such tragic consequences.”

But as we have seen, both last week and in years previous, FEMA’s predictions are also frequently wrong. Why?

Some of the reasons are the ones you might have guessed. FEMA’s maps are backward-looking, often out of date, and based on historical flooding and development. They don’t anticipate trends pointing to the future of climate change and rising sea levels, shown by repeatedly flooded areas in Houston that lie outside of supposedly 100-year and 500-year flood zones. And, of course, 100-year and 500-year floods are occurring much more frequently than we’d expect, implying that those zones need to be updated. The maps also don’t account for rapidly expanding development in flood-prone suburban and exurban regions.

But another issue is the amount of control local politicians exert on these maps. As flood maps are developed, some local officials and communities have disproportionate influence on how they take shape. Politicians prefer to keep flood zones small to save their constituents money and allow for more development, according to new research by Sarah Pralle, a political scientist at Syracuse University, presented in San Francisco at the American Political Science Association’s annual conference on Thursday.

Pralle interviewed federal, state, and local managers and contractors as part of her research. “The overriding concern of local officials is to reduce the size of flood maps and to reduce base flood levels,” she says. That’s because the 100-year flood crest level, whatever it may be, then dictates the level at which buildings must be built. Local residents have a vested interest in making flood zones as small and low as possible, so they hire surveyors, engineering firms, or lawyers to help challenge and appeal FEMA’s preliminary maps.

This ability to shape FEMA maps is disproportionately held by wealthier communities — poorer communities often lack the resources to pay their own “experts.” This is particularly problematic for residents when mapping follows development rather than the other way around. People buying homes or condos in a newly developed area might not know they’re in a flood zone until FEMA updates its map to include all the new construction. Then they’re slapped with flood insurance they can’t afford or dispute, and their property values go down — a new form of “redlining.”

Of course, FEMA tries to accurately communicate flood risks, and its maps, which are tied to the National Flood Insurance Program’s rates, have saved the country money. But since climate scientists predict sea levels will likely rise 1 to 3.2 feet this century — with the higher part of that range coming from emitting greenhouse gases in a “business-as-usual” scenario — the maps need to address that. But even in a scenario in which the government agency wants to take climate change as seriously as it should, the maps are hard to adjust. Like the census, it takes time and billions of dollars with each update. And a FEMA official who responded to my request for comment said that after Harvey, its focus is on recovery, rather than mapping.

Unfortunately, we have neither the ability nor the political will to update the maps in a reasonable fashion. Far from providing the additional funds the organization would need to rethink its zoning recommendations, President Donald Trump proposed cutting the organization’s budget by $190 million in his (largely meaningless, except in messaging) budget. His budget would also drop local communities’, states’ and tribes’ grant funding for disaster mitigation, which would be used to help prepare for the next hurricane. And while Congress rejected Trump’s dramatic budget, it hasn’t contributed extra funding either.

A FEMA advisory committee, which includes climate scientists, engineers, and surveyors, recommends making two sets of maps, a short-term one like is done now and a future-oriented one that accounts for evolving flood conditions incorporating climate change projections for rising seas, erosion hazards, and expanding development. In a statement, a FEMA representative wrote:

“In 2012, Congress recognized the need to evaluate our existing mapping program and the potential to include considerations for climate sciences and future conditions by establishing the Technical Mapping Advisory Council (TMAC). The TMAC is a federal advisory committee established to review and make recommendations to FEMA specifically on these issues. We have worked to support the TMAC in their review of our mapping program and will continue to work with them as they outline reports and recommendations to improve our programs in this space.”

But the agency has yet to act on those recommendations. Currently, New York City is the only place in the country that takes climate change into account when mapping flood zones, following a special program adopted after Hurricane Sandy. If FEMA doesn’t find the funds and political will to reform its flood mapping system, it won’t stop the flooding. We’ll just continue to be underprepared, inundated, and overwhelmed.

Source: Why are federal flood maps so flawed? — High Country News

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