The SPMP is a year-long study of flood mitigation on the lower South Platte River. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will try to find ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.
The project area includes 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Weld-Morgan County Line to the Nebraska state line.
Friday’s meeting was organized primarily by Logan County Commissioner Dave Donaldson and hosted by Morgan County Commissioner Jim Zwetzig, but was attended by commissioners from all four counties and a variety of other water interests.
Donaldson opened the meeting by saying, as he has in the past, that he would like to see some “channelizing” of the South Platte in areas where sand bars and other sediment accumulations have caused some blockage to the river, which worsens flood damage.
Kayla Uptmor, chief of civil works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, said any COE work done on flood mitigation would have to have a return on investment.
“Our first question is, ‘What is the need for federal investment,'” Uptmor said. “The thinking in Congress is that for projects like this, there needs to be a dollar-for-dollar return to the federal government on the investment made.”
She said that doesn’t necessarily mean revenue; in the case of flood mitigation the return would be in terms of less damage.
In any event, Uptmor said, it would be at least 2020 before any funds could even be budgeted for DOE projects on the South Platte River.
Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said several times during the meeting that once the study is finished, early next year, would require a “coalition of stakeholders,” and solutions would have to be driven from the local communities, not from the state.
“Any solutions that are identified would have to involve the irrigation communities because they are a key component of what you accomplish in the river,” he said. “Ultimately, we would like to see solutions focused on the four counties (covered by the study.)”
Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which includes the same four counties as the SPMP study, again stressed the need to coordinate the SPMP with the results of a CWCB-funded study of storage possibilities on the South Platte River.
“I think that has to be an important part of it, how do we tie flood mitigation to storage,” he said.
Morgan County Commissioner Jim Zwetzig asked how the panel thought the necessary coalition might form. Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study, said the stakeholder coalition for what is called the Middle South Platte Master Plan, done on a 20-mile stretch of the South Platte from St. Vrain Creek to the confluence with the Big Thompson River, didn’t begin to form until the late stages of the study.
After the meeting Zwetzig said he thought the lower South Platte coalition would look “much different from the Middle South Platte coalition.”
“That one was 20 miles and there was a lot of municipal stuff in it, it was a lot more urban,” he said. “We’re looking at 130 miles of river with 32 (irrigation) diversions, so there will be much more of an agricultural component. Also, (Colorado Department of Transportation) and the Parks and Wildlife people will be a lot more involved.”
Donaldson said he thought the three-hour meeting had been productive and had shown stakeholders that there are information resources that can be drawn on.