Since the 2013 floods, the Big Thompson Watershed coalition has been leveraging grant money to rebuild and improve the river corridor, making it healthier and more resilient.
Now, the nonprofit is shifting its focus to resiliency for the future, to improvements that will prepare the community for future flood and fire impacts and to ensure long-term river health.
As part of that effort, the coalition is reaching out into the community to make new connections, holding a fundraiser with a goal of $50,000 and has a community bio-blitz planned…
The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition is a nonprofit that has been operating for five years on grant money and disaster-recovery funds available after the 2013 floods. Two full-time employees handle all the community outreach, grant searches and more behind the scenes for the grant-funded projects.
To help keep a staff of two going into the future and to meet the organization’s operations needs, the coalition has a fundraiser planned for Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery.
The event, which costs $60 per ticket, will feature dinner, a live cellist, fly-fishing demonstrators, tours of an adjacent watershed project, an art auction and time to soak up the river…
The theme centers on “inspirations and aspirations” of the river, and the event gives people a first-hand look at one of the completed river projects. Speakers also will talk about watershed issues…
Tickets are available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting email@example.com…
A major project for the watershed forum in the coming year is to create a plan for the Big Thompson River for 15 miles through Loveland with a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The coalition will lead a team looking at river health as well as the community’s needs and wants surrounding both recreation as well as responsible development along Colo. 402.
The coalition has launched an advisory committee that includes Loveland and Larimer County officials and likely will include ditch companies as well as members of the coalition board. They plan to reach out into the community for input on needs and desires and to consider a balance between those and river health.
The goal is to create a clear understanding of the river corridor and its many demands and to end with a prioritized list of specific projects that are feasible, could be funded with grants and achieve that balance, Gutman explained…
The coalition is looking for 10 to 30 community members to participate in a bio-blitz, which is where groups fan out over different sections of the river at the same time and collect data on water quality, plants and bugs. The idea is to have a “flash understanding” of the ecosystem that morning, Sept. 28.
The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition will not be only agency participating. In fact, volunteers will be collecting data over three different watersheds in the region and then meet in Lyons to share ideas and to have a celebration.
The hope is that those residents, once taught to collect data, would be willing to volunteer with another piece of the coalition’s long-term goal — monitoring the success of completed projects…
Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org…
Big Thompson Watershed Coalition
Fundraiser: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery, including music, art auction, tours of a project site, speakers, dinner and drinks. $60 per ticket, available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting email@example.com
Bio-blitz: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, different locations on the Big Thompson River. Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
While there was no time to build an ark to prepare for the “bomb cyclone” that hit Nebraska and other areas of the Midwest this spring, farmer Noah Seim said one of his fields successfully braved the storm because he had established a healthy stand of rye as a cover crop.
Noah has been planting cover crops on his cropland for over 10 years. He recently enrolled in the Nebraska Soil Health Initiative, a partnership effort between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, to gain a better understanding of the science behind planting cover crops and the impact on soil health.
It turns out that the cover crop he planted served as sort of an “ark” for Noah’s bean field following the severe weather Nebraska had this past March.
“The storm went through here and it just rained and rained and rained,” Noah said. “Our ground was frozen, it could not take barely anything in at all. The creek came out of its banks and out of 75 farmable acres, 70 of them were underwater. The rye survived, and the field came out of it. I cannot imagine what that field would have looked like if the rye had not been there.”
Aaron Hird, soil health specialist with NRCS, said cover crops can provide many benefits to cropland. While not typically planted to prevent damage from flooding, he’s noted several Nebraska crop fields that would have fared far worse after March’s severe weather if not for having a cover crop established.
“Cover crops protect the soil with living plant vegetation above and below ground,” Aaron explained. “That protects the soil from heat, wind, rain – and in the case of Noah’s field – flooding.”
“Crop residue, such as corn stalks, left after harvest can provide the soil some protection from erosion. But during the recent flooding, farmers noticed that crop residue would wash or float away. Since cover crops are growing in the soil, they don’t wash away, and their roots hold the soil,” Aaron said.
Soybean crops. Photo credit: NRCS
Cover crops. Photo credit: NRCS
That was the scenario that played out on Noah’s cropland. Noah added, “The rye held everything in place. The soil stayed put and only the soybean residue had been washed around.”
Aaron works with farmers across Nebraska and knows that not all flooded acres were able to be planted this year. Instead of leaving those acres exposed and vulnerable to further damaged from wind, heat and water, Aaron encouraged producers to plant a cover crop.
Aaron added, “For Nebraska’s cropland that suffered significant damage, planting a cover crop can be a great way to help protect fields and help restore productivity.”
“That flooded field will go into commercial corn this year,” concluded Noah. “We will interseed a mix of six pounds of cereal rye and four pounds of red clover and will plant it at the V-4 stage. We are looking forward to seeing how things go this year and are so thankful for that rye crop.”
A different judge is presiding over the 2½-year-old environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.
Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado has replaced Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch, who died in May.
“This is a very, very important case,” Kane said last week when he held his first proceeding, a status conference, on the case. He has been on the bench for 41 years.
“Taking over a case (from another judge) is not very pleasant” because a lot of catching up is required, he told the attorneys. Thousands of pages of documents have been filed for the litigation.
The federal and state environmental protection agencies filed the lawsuit in 2016, and were joined by the Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
After a trial last year, Matsch decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit which regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek.
The next step would be another trial for Kane to determine what Colorado Springs must do to remedy the violations.
However, The Pueblo Chieftain reported July 30 that all sides notified the judge that they have been meeting “regularly and intensively” all year to try to agree on terms to settle the dispute, instead of going to trial again.
At their request, Kane put the case on hold until Nov. 22 to give them more time for that purpose.
At last week’s court conference, a federal attorney told the judge that the violations “are ongoing.”
Water left behind by severe weather in northeast Colorado Springs has some neighbors are concerned about rising water in ponding basins near their homes.
Taxpayers agreed to pay more money for improvements to the stormwater system in the Colorado Springs area and while some folks in Wolf Ranch were concerned about a detention pond filling up, the experts say it’s evidence the stormwater system is doing its job.
On the surface it’s calm, but the stormwater system below this detention pond in Wolf Ranch is moving thousands of gallons of water down stream. Seeing this normally dry basin full of water had some neighbors on edge. Even some of the wildlife came in for a closer look, but stormwater expert Richard Mulledy says the system is performing at a high level.
“You’ve got to give it an “A”,” said the Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise Manager. “I mean, it really took a hard hit and we didn’t see anything major.”
Just down the road near Research Parkway and Black Forest Road, work is going on to build another detention pond to help mitigate flooding during severe weather.
“Our stormwater infrastructure is enormous. we’re 195 square miles we’re actually the largest landwise city in the state,” said Mulledy.
It’s become a requirement for new neighborhoods because if there isn’t somewhere for the water to go it could cause major problems.
“If this facility wasn’t here you would’ve seen that giant flash flood come down erode the banks, flow over the top of roads, that’s when you see people’s backyards caving in. things like that,” said Mulledy.
The water in this Wolf Ranch detention pond will completely drain into Cottonwood Creek within 72-hours. Across the city, ponds like this are used to control the water flow making areas near waterways safer downstream all the way to Pueblo.
A storm that unleashed its power over the Lake Christine burn area beginning late Sunday afternoon triggered multiple debris flows and water on Frying Pan Road that temporarily trapped 20 different vehicles, but resulted in no known injuries, according to Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue…
A Pitkin Alert evacuation notice went out at 5:31 p.m. aimed at those who lived in the area of Pinon Road and Cedar Drive imploring them to “please take all necessary precautions,”which included seeking higher ground. “Do not enter flowing water or debris,” was among the initial warnings.
Frying Pan Road was closed intermittently Sunday from Riverside Drive to about 2 1/2 miles up the road, according to deputy chief Cleve Williams. The intersection of Cedar Drive and Two Rivers Road was reopened by 10 p.m. on Sunday…
According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, an inch of rain fell over the first hour, beginning at 5 p.m. There were reports of heavy rain after the first 30 minutes and flooding started on the south end of the Lake Christine burn scar. By 8:30 p.m. the rain had subsided and, according to Chief Thompson, was expected to let up before midnight.
FromThe Aspen Times (Rick Carroll) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Click through to view the photo gallery):
One of the trigger points for the floods was at Pinon Drive and Cedar Drive, an area above Basalt from where the initial 911 calls were placed at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday…
All of the roads, including Frying Pan Road — where 10 vehicles had been stuck Sunday and later removed — had re-opened to traffic by Monday. Pinon and Cedar drives, as well as Two Rivers Road, also had been closed. Two Rivers Road opened late Sunday; Pinon and Cedar opened Monday morning.
Crews also on Monday determined the floods had not damaged the integrity of roads and bridges, said Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manager.
Structural damage to the residences in the affected area appeared to be limited, according to Barron.
“We believe there were less than 10 private residences with debris in or around structures, and for the majority of those structures, the debris was in nonresidential spaces — garages and basement and property surrounding that,” he said.
The county had not received any reports of residences being uninhabitable, Barron noted.
The evacuation zone impacted about 30 residences; however, a number of individuals couldn’t evacuate because of dangerous road conditions, Barron said.
Sunday’s response was a collaborative effort among Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt, area law enforcement and emergency response teams, as well as state and federal agencies, Barron said.
The flow out of Ruedi Reservoir was increased Monday by 50 cubic feet per second to help clear up the Fryingpan River, which had taken on a muddy hue from the flood’s debris and sediment.
“This should be a big help toward protecting fish and river health,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications.
Click here to view the poster from the United States Geological Survey:
In the early evening of July 31, 1976 a large stationary thunderstorm released as much as 7.5 inches of rainfall in about an hour (about 12 inches in a few hours) in the upper reaches of the Big Thompson River drainage. This large amount of rainfall in such a short period of time produced a flash flood that caught residents and tourists by surprise. The immense volume of water that churned down the narrow Big Thompson Canyon scoured the river channel and destroyed everything in its path, including 418 homes, 52 businesses, numerous bridges, paved and unpaved roads, power and telephone lines, and many other structures. The tragedy claimed the lives of 144 people. Scores of other people narrowly escaped with their lives.
The Big Thompson flood ranks among the deadliest of Colorado’s recorded floods. It is one of several destructive floods in the United States that has shown the necessity of conducting research to determine the causes and effects of floods. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts research and operates a Nationwide streamgage network to help understand and predict the magnitude and likelihood of large streamflow events such as the Big Thompson Flood. Such research and streamgage information are part of an ongoing USGS effort to reduce flood hazards and to increase public awareness.
After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read. Here’s one passage:
I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.
Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.
I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.
Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.
Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.
In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.
Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).
Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.
Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.
At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.
The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.
Officials of Pueblo County and of the Lower Arkansas Valley are making significant progress to resolve a lawsuit against Colorado Springs for years of defiling Fountain Creek.
“The parties have made significant progress toward settlement,” states a July 23 report obtained by The Pueblo Chieftain.
The report was submitted to a judge in Denver of the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.
The Chieftain reported in December that both sides of the dispute had begun meeting to discuss a potential resolution without further litigation.
The new report and the one in December were signed by attorneys for the litigants: the county commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment on one side, and the city of Colorado Springs on the other side…
After a trial last year, the judge overseeing the case decided in November that the Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates discharges into the creek from the city’s storm water sewer system.
The next step would have been for another trial to determine what the city must do to remedy the violations.
The commissioners, the water conservancy district, plus the federal and state environmental agencies stated in December they would ask a judge to order Colorado Springs to improve its storm water system, impose monetary penalties “and other appropriate remedies” if both sides could not agree on how to resolve the dispute.
In last week’s report, all sides stated they “have been meeting regularly and intensively to reach settlement.”
They asked the judge to put the case on hold in order to give them at least until Nov. 22 “to focus on settlement.”
While the interest in cleaning up Fountain Creek through downtown Colorado Springs is building, the coalitions and money needed to do it are lagging.
Trout Unlimited, the nationwide organization known for advocating for water quality improvements to bolster recreation, has not been involved. The local chapter’s president, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, cast doubt on the possibility of a sustainable trout population in the stretch, but he said he would be interested in learning more.
There are cleanups of the area around the stream, but any visitor can clearly see that they aren’t solving the problem.
“We’re absolutely talking about it,” City Council President Richard Skorman said. “But, no, there’s not, like, $10 million in a fund today that’s involved in it.”
State Sen. Owen Hill, the Republican lawmaker Peak ventured into the creek with, said he is working to build support among nongovernmental organizations to complete a cleanup. Hill declined to identify the groups because he’s still in the early stages of talks to get them aboard.
“It is a little sketchy, but we aren’t going to change that without building the awareness,” Hill said, noting that he has returned many times to fish the creek. “When you look at our grandparents’ generation, they used to picnic down there and swim in the creek. And now we’re afraid to go down there without waterproof clothing on.”
Colorado Springs’ City Council recently passed ordinances increasing fines for littering and prohibiting camping within 100 feet of a public stream to help improve water quality in Fountain Creek. The latter, which adds to the city’s existing camping ban, has drawn pushback from advocates who say transients are being unfairly blamed for a bigger problem.
Skorman says homeless displacement is a concern of his, but that the city is working toward solutions. He said he envisions that one day the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks downtown could be like Confluence Park in central Denver, where people swim, kayak and fish.
“We’re probably a good 10 years behind other communities,” Skorman said. “I dream about this at night. It’s my big passion. And I think we’re going to do it here. I think we’re going to do something special.”
As for Peak, he’s going to continue working to raise awareness of Fountain Creek’s potential.
“This isn’t something that the current city council or government did, but it is something that they have to deal with,” Peak said. “What to do? That’s the million dollar question.”
Lake City, the only town in remote Hinsdale County, is one of many rural Colorado communities working to prepare for potential flooding as the winter’s epic snowpack begins to melt. Mountain towns across the state are preparing sandbags and warning visitors about high water…
Although numerous mountain towns have prepared for high water, Lake City’s predicament was particularly dire and threatened lives before the emergency crews arrived, state officials said.
More than 60 avalanches, some more than a half-mile wide, pushed mountainsides of trees, boulders and snow to the floors of the two river valleys surrounding the town, which sits at the confluence of Henson Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River…
Authorities feared a wall of water could build if the logs jammed or blocked one of the two historic dams. If the debris jam or dam were to break, the surge of water sent downstream could send feet of water into some of the low-lying areas of town within 15 minutes.
At a town meeting Tuesday, officials estimated there was a 10 percent chance that the worst-case scenario could happen if weather conditions aligned perfectly and predicted that high water could begin as early as this weekend. Federal, state and local officials have worked in the city for a few weeks to mitigate the chance of such a surge, including partially deconstructing one of the dams…
Lake City residents knew the avalanches around their town of about 400 people this past winter were unprecedented. The avalanches in February and March caused voluntary evacuations and flattened the Hinsdale County sheriff’s house outside town.
But it wasn’t until crews in April started exploring the two mountain roads along the river valleys that the size of the avalanches became apparent. Piles of centuries-old trees, snow and boulders covered sections of roads up to a half-mile long…
Mitigation efforts have been broad. Personnel from the group of agencies built a berm along one of the rivers in town. They partially destroyed one of the historic dams so water could flow better. They also placed additional sensors along the rivers so the flows could be monitored in real time. They helped organize the filling and deployment of more than 18,000 sandbags around town to protect important buildings. Crews surrounded the most vulnerable homes near the confluence with 3,000-pound mega sandbags…
Engineers recommended that the town demolish the 129-year-old Hidden Treasure Dam because they worried that avalanche debris could block the dam and cause it to fail, sending a rush of water toward town. Contractors used a remote-controlled jackhammer suspended on a sling to chip away at the top of the dam and small explosives to blast away the bottom.
But engineers later determined the new gaps at the top and the bottom were big enough to avoid a jam…
Signs along the Rio Grande on Wednesday prohibited anybody — or any boat — from entering the raging water. Along Colorado 149, the river overtook tree trunks and washed out boat ramps, but left houses untouched. Campgrounds and some roads in the area remained closed.
Mineral and Rio Grande counties, as well as sections of Conejos and Saguache counties, remained on flood watch Thursday. Officials in Chaffee and Summit counties, as well as the towns of Silverthorne, Buena Vista, Avon and Ouray, have opened sandbag stations…
In Creede, about 50 miles southeast of Lake City, waters have taken over the floodplain but haven’t threatened any structures, said Kathleen Murphy, director of the town’s chamber of commerce. The city worked last week to widen a concrete flume that directs water through town. A road north of town washed out after avalanche debris built up, releasing a surge of water. Some lower-elevation hiking trails were flooded as well.
In Colorado, where snow still blankets the San Juan Mountains, the Durango Telegraph has proclaimed El Niño as the winner of this year’s Hardrock 100. The race was scheduled for mid-July.
Organizers canceled the 100-mile foot race among the peaks of the San Juans around Silverton owing to “unprecedented avalanche debris, unstable snow bridges and high water” that compromised 40 miles of the race course.
It was the third time in 27 years that the race had been canceled, the first being in 1995 because of too much snow and then in 2002 because of forest fires.
At the California Weather Blog, meteorologist Daniel Swain suggests a big view of weather extremes across North America: floods in Nebraska, tornadoes in Oklahoma, a massive forest fire in Canada and record heat in the Arctic. They’re all connected, he points out.
Emerging evidence suggests that such weather extremes may be occurring with greater frequency and intensity as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet.
“Interestingly, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the impacts we experienced in 2019 will be exactly the same the next time this pattern repeats,” Swain wrote on his blog. Every iteration of the “wavy jet stream” produces new patterns of warmth vs. coolness and very wet vs. very dry.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly storage model runs, based on the latest Colorado River Basin runoff forecasts, show Lake Powell ending the water year (Sept. 30) at 13.8 million acre feet. That’s an increase of more than a million feet over the May estimate, and 2.8 million acre feet above the Sept. 30, 2018 number:
From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):
Releases from Green Mountain to the Blue River will increase according to the following schedule starting at midnight [June 15, 2019] (cusp between 15 and 16 June):
12:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1100 cfs to 1200 cfs
3:00 a,m. Adjust release from 1200 cfs to 1300 cfs
6:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1300 cfs to 1400 cfs
Competition for the limited water resources used to be a primary, if not the primary, issue for agriculture in northeastern Colorado.
While quantity is still a major issue, water quality is increasingly important, particularly with deterioration of that quality.
That was apparent at an annual locally led meeting hosted Wednesday in Brush by the Morgan Conservation District…
The Morgan Conservation District works with the Fort Morgan NRCS field office and is a member of the Lower South Platte watershed of Morgan, Centennial, Sedgwick and Haxtun Conservation Districts.
C.W. Scott, team leader for Morgan and Logan County NRCS, was among the leaders of the discussion, as were Madeline Hagen, Morgan district manager, and Todd Wickstrom, district board president.
Groundwater, human consumption and whether water is safe for livestock are all concerns, participants said.
The question is at what point does the quality deteriorate so much that water kills the crops instead of growing them.
With more runoff this year than in recent years, water will have more foreign material in it.
Municipalities such as Wiggins using reverse osmosis are allowed to flush the by-products of that process into the river when the flow in the river is sufficient, participants said, but that is far from the only concern.
Human hormone supplements in the water are on the rise, as are total dissolved solids.
Salt people put on sidewalks and residue from water softeners are also factors.
In Lake City this week, a small team finished building a deep channel 1,000 feet long — a diversion in case Henson Creek’s banks are breached, said the team’s Michael Davis. Another berm is being built closer to town to protect the historical buildings and unpaved roads.
Converging streams near Lake City always have posed flooding risks, but this unprecedented threat is seen in aerial photos of new avalanche fields packed with big trees and boulders. The timber is about 300 years old, Davis said.
“That means they’re coming from areas that have not slid in the past 300 years, and that also means we’re changing the topography of the mountains. So where we once had a dense forest of mature trees that held the snow and the rains, we now have a new slide chute.”
It’s a slide chute for that debris to come rushing with water down into the creek, potentially building up, clogging and starting a chain of events that people on this side of the San Juan Mountains haven’t dealt with in generations…
In several basins, about half of the accumulations are waiting to melt…
San Juan County’s rivers are high enough to create “minor flooding,” [Jim] Donovan said. “But we still have a lot of snow in the mountains, so we’re not assuming anything.”
Heading into June, the Colorado Water Conservation Board warned that the delayed snowmelt might heighten the flooding risk, as June is expected to be a wet month statewide. Predicted long-lasting high water, the board said unforeseen conditions, such as sustained warmth or rain, have led to floods even in years of low snowpack…
Flash flood advisories and warnings have lingered in several parts of Colorado this month. In Huerfano County. fear of washouts and mudslides remain after last year’s major wildfire.
On the other end of the San Luis Valley, residents of Del Norte and South Fork can’t remember when the Rio Grande looked so high…
Stretches of the river have been closed to boating and fishing, and RV parks were on voluntary evacuation last weekend. First responders are preparing equipment and sandbags, as in Lake City.
Pueblo officials restricted access to the Arkansas River Tuesday, one day after a Texas man lost his life farther upstream.
The river has now been restricted to whitewater canoes and kayaks from Lake Pueblo’s dam east to the Pueblo-Otero County Line by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Pueblo Police Department, and the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office. Swimmers, rafters, and innertubers, no matter how well equipped, will be ticketed if they are discovered in the water.
According to the National Weather Service, the Arkansas River exceeded flood stage early Tuesday afternoon in the town of Avondale just downstream of Pueblo. Minor flooding is occurring…
Above Lake Pueblo, more snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains is already on its way downhill. The NWS predicts the Arkansas will reach flood stage in Canon City shortly after midnight Friday, and stay above it for at least two days.
Even farther upstream, rafting companies are voluntarily avoiding three sections of the Arkansas between Granite and Buena Vista, and in the Royal Gorge, following high water warnings.
The Arkansas River near Salida will welcome thousands of spectators and competitors this weekend to FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas River). Many crowd favorite events, however, have already been scrapped due to rising waters.
The cubic feet per second reading on the Arkansas on Monday in Salida was measured over 4,000 sending water close to the top of the historic concrete bridge on F Street in downtown. This isn’t even peak runoff flow yet.
FIBArk announced the list of canceled events which includes the Hooligan Race, the Stand Up Paddle board event on Friday, the SUP Cross on Saturday, and the Crazy River Dog Contest on Sunday — all canceled because of unsafe conditions.
Lake City, which got its name in 1873, during the first flash of the mining boom in the San Juans, has a population of 400 people. Its population swells during summer, when it’s a popular destination for Texans but also mountain climbers. Several 14,000-foot peaks, including Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, are located nearby, above Henson Creek.
Henson Creek is what concerns Hinsdale County as well as state and other authorities. There were many avalanches during snow season. One left snow and ice 200 to 300 feet deep and a half-mile wide across the creek. The trees, boulders and other debris in the snow create the makings of a dam. Should the dam back up melted snow and then burst, Lake City could be flooded.
“It is a totally different animal if we’re talking about a debris field of logs and trees as opposed to clear water,” explained Michael Davis, public information officer with the Hinsdale Unified Coordination Group.
A masonry dam, called Hidden Treasure, compounds the problem. Created in 1890 to produce electricity, it lost that function long ago. It has a gaping hole in its face, the result of a breach in 1973.
But a half-dozen experts who gathered to study it this past week concluded that trees and other materials could build up behind the dam. They say complete failure of the dam is likely, which could result in a “catastrophic flood surge,” according to the Hinsdale County website. To avert that possibility, the dam is being preemptively destroyed.
High runoff normally occurs by June 10, Davis told the Crested Butte News, but because of the cool spring, that high runoff as of late May was expected to occur on or around June 18. The snow-water equivalent in the snowpack of the Gunnison River Basin, where Lake City is located, was 727 percent of normal as of June 2, according to the SNOTEL measuring sites. Farther south, in the Telluride-Durango area, the same measuring matrix reported 1,174 percent of average.
This year, instead of supplying helicopters with water to dump on fires, Denver Water is draining water from Dillon Reservoir in anticipation of runoff, which is expected to really begin coming down in the next few weeks.
“This year being a high snowpack year, we know there’s going to be a lot of water getting into the reservoir,” Denver Water supply manager Nathan Elder said. “We’re trying to have enough space to catch that runoff while providing for safe outflows to the Blue River below the reservoir.”
At the moment, the reservoir — which is the main drinking water supply for 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area — is 75% full with 192,554 acre-feet of water. When full, the reservoir holds 257,304 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water would cover an area the size of an acre 1-foot deep. Given the current estimate for runoff volume, there will be more than enough water to fill it.
“The forecasting for the rest of June and July project a volume of anywhere from 169,000 acre-feet to 211,000 acre-feet coming into the reservoir,” Elder said. “That’ll fill it, but we’re probably not going to fill it until the Fourth of July to make sure we’re past that peak-inflow time.”
Elder said peak inflow to the reservoir is expected to start about a week later this year than usual, which also means Summit’s two marinas in Dillon and Frisco will have to wait before the reservoir is full enough for boating. However, boaters should have a lot more time for play this year compared with last, when boat ramps were retracted weeks before they normally would be due to low water.
“Typically, every year we target June 18 to be at 9,012-foot elevation needed for both marinas to be completely operational, but it’s going to be a little delayed this year,” Elder said. “But while the boating season might be shortened by a week on the front end, on the tail end, it should last quite a bit longer.”
The delay also means local emergency officials will be watching streamflows longer into the month, looking to spring into action if Tenmile Creek, Straight Creek or the Blue River approach the verge of flooding.
Current two-week projections show all three waterways approaching “action stage,” the threshold at which the towns and county are called to start flood mitigation preparations, by June 15.
Summit County’s director of emergency management Brian Bovaird said he closely has been watching the forecasts for flooding. That is opposed to last June when Bovaird, who recently had gotten the job as emergency director, was given a literal trial by fire.
“It’s like picking your poison,” Bovaird said. “Last year, it was wildfire. This year, it’s flooding. We’re expecting heavy runoff moisture, which is good for wildfire but makes us uneasy about the flooding risk.”
Barker Dam’s scheduled spill is expected to begin over the next few days, officials said. Each spring as temperatures warm, runoff from melting mountain snow increases stream flows. Before peak stream flows occur at lower elevations, like in the City of Boulder, mountain reservoirs must first fill and start spilling, officials said.
“This is a normal and expected event that will increase flows in Boulder Creek throughout the city,” The City of Boulder said in a statement.
The Barker Dam spill normally occurs between mid May to late June, but is dependent on weather, snowpack and early spring reservoir levels. This spring, cool temperatures and continued snow accumulation have delayed snowmelt runoff, the city said.
The waters of the Gunnison River are currently at 10.7 feet. It has passed the bankfull stage. This means some water is beginning to spill out into the floodplain. The floodplain is the low-lying area next to the river. The Gunnison’s Flood stage is at 13 feet. It’s expected to rise near 10.8 feet by Saturday.
Orchard Mesa and Whitewater are under the current advisory.
Parts of the Colorado River are rising, but it’s not under an advisory. The Colorado River near Loma is nearing bankfull. According to data from a National Weather Service gauge near the state line, water levels are at about 10.5 feet and are expected to rise to 12.5 by Saturday afternoon.
The south arm of the Great Salt Lake is up by 2.5 feet since December and its north arm is 2 feet deeper thanks to the wet water year, and the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake will take on even more water in the weeks to come.
“It’s a pretty good jump so far, but we’re not done yet,” said Todd Adams, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
The highest elevation snowpack has yet to melt, and with most reservoirs brimming, that water will bypass those storage infrastructures and help quench the thirsty saltwater body…
Water managers along the Wasatch Front will be keeping their eye on stream flows and reservoir levels to keep enough storage going into the summer and time releases into rivers to hopefully avoid flooding.
While most reservoirs are already full, Echo above East Canyon sits at just 49 percent of capacity and Rockport sits at 78 percent, ready to take on snowmelt.
“We could have filled it (Echo) twice this year,” said Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. “The peak flows have not occurred yet coming out of the Uinta Mountains coming down the Weber River, so we are purposefully leaving Rockport down some and Echo down more to use them as shock absorbers to take those big flows.”
Much of that extra water will be sent on downstream to the Great Salt Lake…
The lake is critical to wildlife, multiple industries, recreation interests and more, contributing $1.3 billion into Utah’s economy and drawing tourists from all over the globe.
It serves as the Pacific “flyway” for thousands of migratory birds and supports a $57 million brine shrimp industry…
Mike Styler, who recently retired as executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said maintaining the viability of the Great Salt Lake will be one of the critical challenges the state faces going into the future.
He stressed that as agricultural water gets converted for urban use in Weber and Davis counties and reuse of waste water becomes more popular, that threatens to dry up marshes and wetlands that support the lake.
The Great Salt Lake has an average depth of 16 feet, covers 1,700 square miles during an average year and is two to seven times saltier than the ocean.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Aldis Strautins, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said so far snow has been melting off in a manageable fashion, with some minor flooding in lowland locations but nothing serious so far.
“We’re not totally out of the woods yet. It bears monitoring and keeping aware of the situation,” he said.
He said the Colorado River is coming up and may peak locally around Sunday. Andy Martsolf, emergency services director for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, said flows on the Colorado River at the state line are expected to peak at about 36,000 cubic feet per second this weekend. That’s up considerably from the 24,900 cfs being reported there by the U.S. Geological Survey Wednesday.
Officials expect a possible second peak later this month.
The Gunnison River already is cranking, but that’s by design, under the operational protocol for the Aspinall Unit dams on the river. Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation, said releases began on Saturday in an attempt to hit a target goal of flows of 14,350 cfs for 10 days on the lower Gunnison at Whitewater, to help critical habitat for endangered fish in that stretch.
He said it appears flows will fall 1,000 cfs short of that goal.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory in the lower Gunnison River due to the extra water releases affecting river levels there. Strautins said it wasn’t a flood warning, but an effort to make people aware of dangers such as banks giving way due to the high water.
Knight said it doesn’t appear that flows through Delta will exceed 13,000 cfs during the 10-day release. That’s below the level at which the Bureau of Reclamation would cut back releases during the 10-day period to protect the community from flooding.
Wilma Erven, Delta’s parks, recreation and golf director, said some water is showing up in a park at the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, something that can occur in years like this one…
Strautins pointed to a mix of warmer and cooler weather in the forecast in coming days as opposed to a prolonged hot stretch that could drive water levels particularly high, with cloud cover also expected to moderate melting of snow.
Knight, who several months ago could hardly have imagined Blue Mesa Reservoir filling this year after last year’s low snowpack and drought, said it now appears almost certain to fill…
…the snowpack levels remaining in areas such as southwest Colorado are impressive, as evidenced by the mere fact that many sites that normally are dry by now still have snow.
According to one of the data sets [Brian] Domonkos uses, current snowpack levels in those combined basins and in the Gunnison basin are the second-highest on record, he said. But peak levels this year in basins in western Colorado don’t compare nearly as well to other high snowpack years, with the southwest Colorado basins ranking perhaps fourth or fifth, and other basins not coming in that high, Domonkos said.
He said one of his statistical tools indicates there are about 12.3 inches of snow water equivalent left in the Gunnison basin, which peaked at 24 inches.
“So we’re halfway through the melt of that peak snowpack,” he said.
The Colorado basin has about 11 inches of snow water equivalent left, after peaking at about 20 inches, Domonkos said.
He said snowpack normally melts at a rate of an inch a day or a little less of snow water equivalent.
“So snowpack on average probably won’t be hanging around too much longer,” he said.
While more than half of the Colorado basin’s snowpack already is melted, that snowpack was above-average, and Martsolf said the remaining snowpack is still about 71 percent of an average peak snowpack for the basin.
“We’re definitely melted off from where we would be for a seasonal peak but we still have a ways to go,” he said…
Nowhere in western Colorado is the combined threat of rising rivers and avalanche debris causing more concern than in Hinsdale County. Federal, state and county funding is paying the nearly $1 million cost for the ongoing, emergency removal of the historic, defunct Hidden Treasure Dam. While it no longer holds water, there’s concern that avalanche debris washing down Henson Creek combined with high water flows could destroy it, releasing water and debris and causing downstream flooding…
Both Henson and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison creeks pose threats to Lake City. Lyon said there’s currently no flooding occurring, but creek levels have come up considerably in recent days. Warming temperatures and possible rainstorms both could influence what ultimately occurs in coming days and weeks.
From the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District via The Aspen Daily News:
Two community meetings in June will address the threat of runoff, flooding and debris flow in the area.
A news release from the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District states that the first gathering will be held from 6-7 p.m. June 5 at the Redstone Fire Station. It will focus on the threat of flooding from the Crystal River Valley due to heightened snowpack and the delay in runoff due to lower than normal spring temperatures.
The public will get the opportunity to ask questions about how to prepare for flooding and other incidents. Representatives of the fire district will be present, as will emergency officials from Pitkin County government and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The release also says that a similar meeting is scheduled for June 10 starting at 6 p.m. at the Eagle County annex building, 20 Eagle County Drive in El Jebel. Officials plan to discuss the threat of runoff and debris flow in areas that were scarred by last summer’s Lake Christine Fire.
“Emergency officials are advising residents who live in and around the Lake Christine burn scar area to be aware of the high risk for flash flooding and mud and debris flows that could occur after heavy rainfall,” the release states. “The precipitation, coupled with the burn scar, warmer temperatures and above-average snowpack, is expected to produce a faster and heavier runoff period.”
Wildfires result in a loss of vegetation and leave the ground charred and unable to absorb water, according to the release, creating conditions for flooding.
“Even areas that are not traditionally flood-prone are at risk of flooding for up to several years after a wildfire. The prospect for a wetter-than-normal spring has emergency officials from Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties planning for mud and debris flows,” the release adds.
Following higher-than-normal snowfall, officials prepare for the likelihood of flooding that can occur in and around local creeks, rivers and reservoirs, the release says. The weather forecast through May indicates a higher chance of above-normal precipitation over western Colorado, including the central mountains, Aldis Strautins, a service hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said in a prepared statement.
“With the anticipated high water runoff, potential flooding and increased risk of debris flows, it is important that all of our public safety and support agencies work together to plan and coordinate our response before there is an emergent need. We also want to make sure our communities are aware of the above-average risk for these events and prepare for them this year,” Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said.
Midvalley residents, regardless of whether they live in Eagle or Pitkin County, are encouraged to register for Pitkin alerts. When the weather service issues a flash flood warning in the Lake Christine burn areas, the alert system will send out notifications to users who are registered via pitkinalert.org. Registered users of EC Alert also will receive notifications.
Those who only want to receive information about the threat of flash floods, mudslides and debris flows from the Lake Christine burn scar are invited to text LCFLOOD to 888777, the release says.
“People should remember to use caution around fast-moving streams and rivers, especially in a high runoff year,” the release says. “Those who live near the Lake Christine burn scar should be prepared to quickly move to higher ground or evacuate if necessary.”
FromThe Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Denver Post:
The work includes dredging contaminated sediment from streams and ponds, diverting water away from tainted mine waste piles and covering contaminated soil at campgrounds.
The agency first outlined the plan last June and finalized it Thursday.
This summer’s work is aimed at reducing the volume of toxic heavy metals that escape from mining sites and into rivers while the EPA searches for a more comprehensive solution under the Superfund program…
The Gold King is not on the list of 23 sites chosen for this summer’s work. The EPA installed a temporary treatment plant below the Gold King two months after the spill, and it’s still cleaning up wastewater flowing from the mine.
Two of the 23 sites are campgrounds, and three are parking areas or places where people meet for tours. The EPA plans to cover contaminated rocks and soil at those sites with gravel or plant vegetation to reduce the chance of human exposure and keep contaminants from being kicked into the air.
Besides the dredging work, the EPA will dig ditches and berms to keep rain, melting snow and mine wastewater from reaching piles of contaminated waste rock and carrying pollutants into streams.
The initial project will cost about $10 million and take up to five years, the agency said.
The EPA said last year the initial cleanup would include 26 sites. But three mines were removed from the list because work will be done there later.
On the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flank, just southwest of Evans, Colo., and along the banks of the South Platte River, mud-caked pickup trucks share the back roads with battered, dusty hybrid cars.
In many places, farmers and environmentalists often clash over rivers, but not on this stretch of the South Platte.
That’s because people like Jim Park, president of a 149-year-old irrigation ditch company, convinced his fellow farmers to collaborate with a new-era river coalition, helping replace a major irrigation diversion system, restore a segment of the Middle South Platte River for fish and canoes, and make the region safer in the event of future floods.
It all started after 2013, when Evans saw homes, roads and riverside parks wiped away by flood waters of historic proportions. When the the city began planning for its recovery, it knew that the Lower Latham Ditch Company would be a key player in the work.
The Lower Latham is one of the largest diverters of farm water on the Middle South Platte, which stretches some 20 miles and includes the river as it travels through Milliken, La Salle and Evans. The Lower Latham is a crucial economic force in a region that is heavily agricultural. Its primary dam and diversion structure, damaged during the flood, for decades had spanned nearly the width of the river, trapping tons of sediment and back-waters that inundated the lands immediately upstream during times of high flows.
The City of Evans, along with Jeff Crane, a river restoration consultant, and the Middle South Platte River Alliance (MSPRA), convinced the ditch company to join them in their quest to restore the river by modernizing its historical diversion structure. With the aid of $3.3 million in federal funds, they installed a new kind of dam, one that doesn’t rely on a tall concrete barrier, but which uses a set of highly flexible gates that can be remotely lowered, when the rivers’ waters are running dangerously high, or raised, when its flows are lower, so that farmers can still capture the water they need to irrigate.
They installed another structure that captures sediment before it enters the massive irrigation ditch, keeping the sediment in the river, where fish and other aquatic life need it, rather than clogging the irrigation system’s ditches.
They also created a fish passage that skirts the irrigation structure, one which recreation consultants believe will help restore aquatic life while also making it possible for canoers and kayakers to navigate the river.
And perhaps most importantly, it gives Evans and area farmers the flexibility they will need to protect themselves when the next massive flood comes, as it inevitably will.
The ditch and river restoration project is the largest to date in the river basin and the most expensive, according to Crane, who served as a technical consultant for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), helping plan and oversee the restoration work. DOLA served as the conduit and administrator for the federal money that funded the project.
“We consider this project the showcase,” said Crane, because of its scope but also because of its diverse set of beneficiaries.
After the 2013 flood, several new watershed groups, including the MSPRA, formed in the South Platte River Basin, serving as planners for the massive restoration work that needed to be done. The historic flood slammed Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties causing $4 billion in damage, wiping out thousands of homes and destroying hundreds of miles of roads.
Planners knew, in order to be successful, that the restoration effort would have to take a wholistic approach, one that included farmers, cities, as well as environmental and recreational interests.
But it wasn’t easy. Jim Park knew his fellow farmers well. They have one of the oldest water rights on the river — dating to 1869 — and can divert so much water that at times they dry up that reach of the Middle South Platte.
Park said the farmers were interested in updating their structure, but they were deeply wary of allowing the federal government into their operations.
“The big thing about this was that the government was going to give us the money to do it. That throws up a lot of red flags,” he said, with members worried there would be years of interference and delays, even lawsuits, if things went wrong.
Still, Park persisted. “Last November, when we were getting ready to start construction, we had a meeting in Kersey and about 50 people showed up. It went on for three hours. A couple of guys were really against it. But I thought it was an awfully good opportunity for us.”
Members of the Middle South Platte River Alliance believe the project, which was completed this month, could become a template for the South Platte River. It is perhaps the hardest-working waterway in the state, serving millions of city dwellers even as it irrigates Colorado’s largest farm economy.
The river faces major challenges due to the immense growth on the Northern Front Range. Since 2013, nearly 62,500 people have moved to the area, an 11 percent increase, according to the Colorado State Demography Office. But that pales in comparison to what is to come, with demographers estimating the region’s population will nearly double by 2050, surging past the 1.24 million mark, up from roughly 648,000 today.
Billy Mihelich is the engineer for the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, a major player in the farm water world on the Eastern Plains. He too sees potential for these kinds of projects to gradually bring the river into a new era, where farmers increasingly will live side-by-side with urban residents who also consider the river an environmental and recreational asset.
“A lot of these structures were built 100 to 150 years ago,” Mihelich said. “They’ve been maintained, of course, but I think there will be pressure on these ditch companies to install environmentally friendly structures because so many people are moving into what have been historically agricultural areas.”
For Evans, the five and a half years since the flood have been transformative, according to Kalen Myers, a management analyst for the city who also serves as secretary of the MSPRA.
“The flood was devastating,” Myers said. “Riverside Park was completely decimated, two mobile home parks were completely wiped out, hundreds of homes were lost. Happily there was no loss of life [in Evans].”
But since then, Myers said, the city has been able to rebuild homes and the park and to begin envisioning a time when there will be trails along the river and when the park could serve as base camp for those who would like to take their canoes or kayaks to Fort Morgan.
Is it far-fetched to think of an old industrial, agricultural river becoming a haven for bird watchers and boaters?
River lovers don’t think so, although the work would be staggering, said Lauren Bond, founder of The River’s Path, a Longmont company that leads canoe trips on the St. Vrain River and who has studied the South Platte in hopes that eventually it will become passable. “There are hundreds of dams [that would have to be modernized], but we have to start somewhere,” she said.
Looking ahead, Jim Park believes such projects will become more common, because aging farm diversion structures will need to be replaced as time goes on, and the use of environmentally friendly structures will become more accepted.
“There was certainly some trepidation” Park said. “But it has worked out well for us.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Several towns and counties in Colorado are preparing for flooding after a snowy winter and several spring snowstorms have led to the state’s best snowpack in eight years, which is now on the verge of melting into runoff…
Take the above-average snowpack, add in historic avalanches that deposited debris in Tenmile Creek, and the town of Frisco wants to be ready for potential spring flooding. That’s why they’re taking extra steps this year to prepare.
“Are we sounding the alarm at this point? No, but we’re preparing,” said Frisco’s communications director Vanessa Agee.
Aerial shots of the avalanche areas show full trees, branches, large rocks, sediment, and snow still covering the recreation path that runs along I-70 and partially in the creek. That waterway eventually flows right through downtown Frisco.
The Frisco Public Works Department is inspecting the creek’s street crossings twice a day to look out for and remove any debris built up in the creek, and the town has staged a construction backhoe along Main Street near Tenmile Creek in case any backups happen. Sandbags are also being offered to residents, as they are every year…
Summit County says they are prepared to respond to flooding if it happens. A statement from a spokesperson read in part: “In the case of a significant flooding event anywhere in Summit County, we will establish a fire-rescue and law-enforcement incident command to respond to and manage the event.”
Frisco residents can pick up sandbags at the Public Works building (102 School Road) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The first 100 bags per lot are free, and are 25 cents apiece beyond that.
But residents are asked to fill their own sandbags at three piles set up throughout the town: 6th Ave./Galena Street; Madison Ave./Sunset Dr. or the Public Works shop on School Road. Once residents are done using the bags, the town is asking people to return to the sand back to the piles…
Hinsdale County, in central Colorado, held community meetings earlier this week to discuss evacuation plans, with flooding expected to hit the county seat of Lake City in coming weeks.
Avalanches this winter and spring sent large amounts of trees, rocks and earth into Henson Creek and the Lake Fork River, which runs through town.
When [the log and ice jams] release it could cause extensive damage to the town and the local infrastructure,” the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office wrote on its Facebook page.
Combined with typical runoff that happens each year, the county says it expects flooding to occur as the waterways become backed up with water. Henson Creek Road and Lake Road are closed at certain points until further notice, the county said.
CU Boulder today asked the Boulder City Council to consider a flood mitigation option that would support both the community’s life safety needs and the university’s need to use a reasonable amount of its CU Boulder South property in the future to meet its mission to serve Colorado.
In a letter to council members (PDF), the university recommended that Boulder refrain from further investing in Variant I – 500, a flood mitigation option that would curtail the university’s future ability to develop its CU Boulder South property. Located at U.S. 36 and Table Mesa Drive, the 308-acre parcel of university-owned land is under consideration for annexation into the Boulder city limits.
CU Boulder has recommended that the city seriously consider another plan—Variant II – 500—which was previously recommended by the city’s Water Resource Advisory Board and experts hired by the city.
If the university and city reach agreement on annexation terms, CU Boulder would use the property in the future to develop limited academic buildings and housing for faculty, staff, upper-level undergraduate students and graduate students. Other planned uses include recreation fields, expanded hiking and biking trails and other value-added features for the Boulder and university communities.
In all, CU Boulder is seeking to develop just 129 acres of the site designated as public use in the most recent Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update, while 30 acres would be used for recreation fields. The university would donate 80 acres to the city for flood mitigation, with the balance remaining undeveloped.
Arriving at a mutually acceptable flood mitigation plan for the land is key to the agreement between the university and the city after years of ongoing discussions. In order to make progress in the negotiation process, city officials in November asked CU to submit an annexation application ahead of schedule. CU complied by filing an annexation application on Feb. 4.
The next day, city officials decided to move forward with a flood mitigation plan known as Variant I – 500, the only proposed flood mitigation plan among several considered by the city that the university repeatedly has said it cannot accept.
If the city moves forward with Variant 1 – 500, the university would not be able to develop the entire 129 acres allocated for public use on its own property, said Frances Draper, CU Boulder’s vice chancellor for strategic relations and communications.
“The university is dedicated to working with the city, and local residents whose homes are in the floodplain to achieve safety,” Draper said. “At the same time, we must be good stewards of the university’s resources for the benefit of the state of Colorado, to educate students and engage in research. The university has offered significant community benefits while striking a good balance to achieve effective use of this site to serve the needs of students in the coming decades.”
Despite its objection to the city’s intent to pursue Variant I – 500, CU worked to create a path forward in its annexation application by offering three options that would make it possible for CU to work with the city’s chosen flood mitigation plan.
However, in a March 28 response, the city made it clear none of CU Boulder’s alternatives would be feasible, precipitating the university’s response for a study session and further discussions.
Nearly six years after the Big Thompson River flood wrecked U.S. Highway 34, stranded Estes Park and wiped out bridges and homes, the U.S. government has yet to fund $20 million of repairs in Larimer County.
The county hasn’t started construction on County Road 47 (Big Elk Meadows) and County Road 44H (Buckhorn) because of the lack of funding. The county finished work on Big Thompson River bridges destroyed and rebuilt after the flood but hasn’t been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the project.
The delay in FEMA funding for Larimer County’s last three flood recovery projects has county officials in a bind: As another construction season looms without federal money, so does a crucial state deadline.
Colorado’s general fund has paid for about 13% of Larimer County’s flood restoration work since 2013. Come September 2020, state funding for the projects will dry up.
“We will not be able to meet that deadline with the delays we’ve had because of this issue,” said Lori Hodges, Larimer County emergency management director. “Our biggest projects are at risk because we haven’t gotten the guidance we need.”
The holdup is essentially a bureaucratic issue. Congress passed a law in October 2018 changing the way FEMA awards money for disaster recovery work.
FEMA used to deny funding for all projects that didn’t meet a strict set of code compliance guidelines. The guidelines had little wiggle room for projects on roads and bridges in complex terrain — like the ones destroyed by the flood in the Big Thompson canyon. For example, a road repair in a narrow, rocky canyon probably couldn’t meet FEMA’s requirement for shoulder width.
The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 instructed FEMA to award money for projects that don’t meet the strict guidelines as long as a local engineer signs off on the work and agrees a waiver is necessary. Congress gave FEMA 60 days to give its regional offices guidance on how to award funding under the new law.
But FEMA hasn’t done that yet, so regional officials won’t fund the implicated Larimer County projects, Hodges said. FEMA Region 8 spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough told the Coloradoan the office paused a Larimer County funding appeal as it waits for policy guidance from headquarters…
CR 47, partially destroyed by the flood, branches off U.S. Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes Park. The road is accessible but unpaved. An 11-mile stretch of CR 44H, located in Buckhorn Canyon and the Roosevelt National Forest, was heavily damaged in the flood and the High Park Fire in 2012.
Even a quarter inch of rain pouring onto those devastated slopes could bring a new disaster to hundreds of homes and businesses in the Cucharas River valley, including the towns of La Veta and Walsenburg.
The 1,000 residents of La Veta could have as little as 30 minutes warning of a flash flood, and in a worst-case scenario the town could lose 70 percent of its structures.
“We believe we’re going to lose homes,” La Veta Mayor Douglas Brgoch said. “We believe we’re going to lose access and so forth. We don’t want to lose any people.”
Walsenburg’s 3,000 residents would have more warning time, but the potential for devastation also is severe — as many as 600 homes could be flooded along with City Hall and the county’s emergency operations center (a backup location has been secured).
The La Veta town hall also is in “the crosshairs of where flooding would be.” Officials would move to the water treatment facility that is on high ground, Brgoch said.
Town and Huerfano County websites are chock full of flood preparation information. Sirens and stream gauges have been installed, channels cleared and sandbags filled.
In La Veta, residents who live uphill from flood danger have signed up to be “flood buddies,” offering their homes as refuge to friends and neighbors whose homes are most endangered.
Army of volunteers help keep resources focused
About 160 people have put in more than 2,000 volunteer hours with the La Veta Trails organization to clear debris and brush from the banks of the Cucharas River where it runs through town…
Volunteers with Walsenburg’s newly hatched Green Leaf Committee have been doing the same thing along the river banks in that town.
Numerous government and nonprofit agencies are pitching in, coordinating through a post-fire flood task force. Huerfano County Emergency Manager Larry Sanders tried to tick off a list of those who’ve contributed money or services or both: Natural Resources Conservation Service, AmeriCorps, U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, National Weather Service, Colorado Department of Transportation, water districts, local nonprofits. His voice trails off…
Given the potential for a life-threatening flood — not just this year, but for several — Sanders said everyone keeps pushing to complete as much preparation as possible before monsoon season, typically mid-July to September. But they’ve also warned residents that any spring storm with heavy rain could lead to flooding.
The region got a taste of the potential after the fire last summer, with 13 flood warnings and a “few” events that caused some damage. They lost some cattle, barns and other out buildings and a couple of county roads washed out, he said.
But he anticipates much worse flooding from the burn scar.
“It’s not if and not even really when, but how many times,” he said.
Burn scars statewide are prone to flooding for years
The residents of Huerfano County are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado have burned in wildland fires this century, often leaving burn scars prone to flooding for years.
A mud and rock slide from the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire near Durango recently closed a county road. Flash flood warning signs dot some canyon roads through the 2002 Hayman Fire burn area, where charred tree trunks stand starkly on the landscape. Closure gates and flash flood warning signs on U.S. 24 through Ute Pass are a reminder of the deadly flash floods that followed the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.
Depending on the intensity and size of the fire, the steepness of the slopes and its proximity to watersheds and population areas, the results can be catastrophic.
Weston Toll, a watershed program specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service, said burn scar runoff can be devastating to reservoirs, agricultural land and rivers downstream as well as to homes and other structures. Special Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessments are completed to help predict post-fire flooding risks.
The intensity of a fire is key because it is so hot that the soil is sterilized, regrowth — and therefore erosion control — takes much longer. Nearly a quarter of the Spring Creek Fire acreage burned at high intensity, according to the BAER report.
On Monday, 30 officials and residents attended an informational meeting at the Dolores Fire Station hosted by Montezuma County emergency manager Mike Pasquin.
The town has not experienced a major flood from the river since 1911, which filled the town valley with up to 3 feet of water.
But there is potential this year because of the heavy snowpack, warming weather, and wet El Niño weather pattern.
The Dolores River peaks from snowmelt between May 15 and June 15, officials said. How much comes down and at what rate depends on snowpack levels, temperature, rain and soil moisture. Runoff forecasting is an educated guess, and possible flood levels require ground truthing as well.
There are some trigger points to watch for, officials said.
Flood stage for the Dolores River in town is 8 feet. A safe maximum flow of the Dolores River is about 6,000 cubic feet per second in town, said Ken Curtis of the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Increased flows from a hot spell or rain event in the upper valley takes time to reach town and usually arrives at night, said town board member Val Truelsen, “so there should be some nighttime monitoring of the banks.”
Residents should stay tuned to the National Weather Service for regional and local flood watches and warnings.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said the community will be given warnings about predicted flooding conditions through media outlets, town reports, reverse 911, Nixle and social media. The town has recently repaired emergency siren that would also be activated as a warning.
Bridges up the valley are being monitored for debris accumulation and to ensure boaters can safely get under them. Collapsed mines in Rico that collect runoff have automated sensors that warn emergency personnel if the pressure and levels are too high, triggering relief valves.
Community sandbagging projects are happening in some flood-prone towns in the state, said Karen Dixon, emergency manager for the county health department. Local agencies said they are ready to respond to a flood emergency with equipment and staff.
If needed, sand is available at the county shop on County Road 30, said county road manager Rob Englehart.
Officials said severe flooding could compromise utility systems such as water, sewer and natural gas lines, and cause them to be shut down until the water recedes and repairs are made.
Potential shelter areas for evacuees discussed were the Dolores Community Center, Dolores High School, county fairgrounds, House Creek and McPhee campgrounds, and Canyons of the Ancients Museum and Visitor’s Center.
The reconstruction of U.S. 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon was chosen from 820 construction projects nationwide to be named Best of the Best by Engineering New Record.
Several partners in the project — Kiewit Construction, Colorado Department of Transportation, Jacobs, the engineering firm, and a handful of subcontractors — are named on the award that was presented Friday in New York City.
“You would not believe the projects it beat out — vertical construction, a new cadet building for the Army, other just very complicated projects,” said Doug Stremel, project manager with Jacobs.
“It’s really exciting … It was a collaborative effort for CDOT, Kiewit and Jacobs and the others. It was a team effort. We’re happy to share in it, but it really was a collaborative effort.”
Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District (Capt. Ryan Hignight):
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District continues to work with state, local, and tribal governments to repair damaged levees from the 2019 unregulated runoff event. There are over 350 miles of levees on the Missouri, Platte and Elkhorn rivers and tributaries that have experienced significant flood damage. Due to the magnitude of damage along these levees, repair efforts will take an extended period of time. The Omaha District is initiating efforts to perform damage assessments as water recedes and access to the levee system becomes available.
Omaha District Commander Col. John Hudson visited Pierre, South Dakota and met with state emergency management officials. They discussed flood forecasts as well as Omaha District’s ability to respond to state, county, or tribal requests for assistance. Col. Hudson also met with South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Congressman Dusty Johnson. Col Hudson provided them with a situational update on Omaha District’s capabilities regarding the upcoming spring thaw and potential rains. He also discussed the Army Corps’ technical assistance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota concerning high flows and snow melt concerns.
The District is sending notification to levee sponsors in the PL 84-99 program on Monday, March 25 with information on how to request damage assessment and levee repairs. Levees must be active in the Public Law 84-99 program to be eligible for repairs.
Much of the levee system remains compromised due to the record inflows surpassing their designed protection levels.
As of noon today, there were 47 confirmed breaches at L611-614 (South of Council Bluffs, Iowa), L-601 (South of Glenwood, Iowa), L-594 (near Fremont County, Iowa), L-575 (Fremont County, Iowa), L-550 (Atchison County, Missouri), L-536 (Atchinson County, Missouri), R-613 (Sarpy County, Nebraska), R-562 (Nemaha County, Nebraska), Western Sarpy (Ashland, Nebraska), Clear Creek (Ashland, Nebraska), Union Levee (Valley, Nebraska), and R-573 (Otoe County, Nebraska). In addition, levee 550 remains overtopping.
The Omaha District is initiating efforts to perform damage assessments as the water recedes and access to the levee systems becomes available. The District has already begun initiating underwater surveys of scour holes along the Missouri and Platte rivers as well as collecting aerial imagery to support these efforts.
Omaha District’s focus remains on ensuring the safety of citizens and communicating the conditions on the river systems to all of our partners and stakeholders. The Corps continues to provide flood fight assistance to state, local, and tribal government agencies.
The Omaha District has distributed approximately 227,000 sandbags, 2,020 super sandbags, 9,930 feet of HESCO barriers, seven pumps and 21 poly rolls.
The first source of information for citizens is their local emergency managers. For questions or concerns you can call 211, which is a national resource hotline and website geared to local area needs.
Here’s a report on the flooding in Nebraska from Peter Salter writing for The Lincoln Journal Star. Click through and read the whole article and check out the various videos. Here’s an excerpt:
From their offices in Lincoln early Thursday, hydrologists with the U.S. Geological Survey were monitoring the final few moments of a stream gauge more than 200 miles away, on the Niobrara River.
It was hinting at something catastrophic.
“We were watching it from here, and it looked like something incredible was happening that we couldn’t believe,” said Jason Lambrecht. “And suddenly, everything went dark.”
The gauge had been ripped away by the wall of water released when the 90-year-old Spencer Dam failed under the pressure of the river, swollen with rain and rapid snowmelt and broken ice. But its last readings allowed Lambrecht to measure the size of the surge.
Earlier, the Niobrara had been running at 5 or 6 feet of gauge height. After it broke through the dam, it measured nearly 17.5 feet. It wasn’t a gradual increase, either…
And in its wake, three Nebraska counties would learn how that much moving water can become immediately destructive and potentially deadly. How it can cause instant pain and long-term suffering. How it can harm not only those in its path, but those living miles away.
First, the wave swept away a section of U.S. 281, a nearby riverside saloon and at least one home, possibly occupied. And it continued downstream, barreling toward the town of Niobrara — and its mouth at the Missouri River — about 40 miles away.
Knox County: ‘It’s crazy’
The service station owners thought they were ready for the coming water.
They’d taken the tire machine and other equipment away. They brought the important paperwork home. They put their ’68 Camaro up on the lift. They moved the rest of what they could to higher ground, filling the rafters with inventory.
And the couple had a huge inventory. Vic’s Service has anchored the west edge of Niobrara for 25 years, and had enough hydraulic fittings and plumbing pieces to serve as a kind of farmer’s supply store, said Ruth Janak, who co-owns the station with her husband, Victor.
They checked on their business Wednesday, and found it already swamped with 4 feet of water, her desk upturned, pop machines on their sides. A mess, but nothing they couldn’t handle.
“We thought, when the water recedes, we’ll be able to get in and clean all that up,” she said.
They returned Thursday, and found most of it missing.
“Our main building, the one we did our business at, it’s gone. The gas pumps are gone. We lost the propane tank. So many tools are gone,” Janak said Friday. “Where’s all that stuff at? It’s crazy.”
Later, she would find a jug of hydraulic fluid — and someone else’s pontoon boat — on what remained of the town’s golf course. But their main building, and much of what it contained, had likely tumbled downstream.
Theirs wasn’t the only missing building. The wall of water had brutalized Niobrara’s west side, a low-lying commercial district, and the part of town closest to the river.
Jody Stark, the chair of the village board, listed the other casualties. Several buildings from a hay business? Gone. A state Department of Transportation garage? Gone. A Knox County road shop? Gone. The Mormon Bridge on Nebraska 12? Stark has video of the deck floating away. The Country Cafe? Still standing, but it had been nearly swallowed by water and ice, with maybe a foot of the roof visible at one point.
“A lot of buildings washed away,” he said. “They were pretty much swept right down the river and they’re in the Missouri somewhere.”
The good news? Almost all of the 300 or so residents of Niobrara live on higher ground, and weren’t directly hurt by the floodwaters…
Still, his town was struggling. The flooding compromised the town’s two wells, leaving its residents without a water supply, and the fire department was going door-to-door, filling containers. Getting in and out of town was also difficult; by Friday, the Standing Bear Bridge to South Dakota had reopened, and there was one passable gravel road south of town. Nebraska 14, the main route south out of Niobrara, was so strewn with ice it was only open for emergency travel.
The damage was unprecedented, Stark said, and worse than they had originally expected. But that was before they’d heard the Spencer Dam had failed and even more water was headed their way…
The Spencer Dam was a flow-through hydroelectric dam, with garage-type doors that let water through, and Becker said it wasn’t known whether the doors had been open or closed at the time. They disappeared downstream, he said.
Its breach triggered immediate and long-term problems. It swept away a Holt County house just downstream, and authorities were still searching for its owner.
“On March 14th at around 5 in the morning the dam on the niobrara river south of Spencer NE was overtaken by flooding and ice jams. 2 days prior to this there was significant snow melting. 1 day prior there was all day rain measuring 1-1.5 inches. The ground was still frozen from recent below normal temperatures. All that water broke loose ice chunks the size of cars and trucks. The dam was no match for this extreme force. The dam and the dike were both destroyed. The water then washed out Hwy 281 and flooding many communities downstream.” — Birkel Dirtwork
And the force of the flow severed the supply of water to the north, in Boyd County. Many of its 2,000 residents relied on the pipeline from Holt County that was buried beneath the river. Now that it’s gone, they don’t have the water they need for drinking, for livestock, for flushing.
They received a truckload of bottled water Friday, enough to last maybe a day, said Doug Fox, Boyd County’s emergency management coordinator. They need more…
And Boyd County was struggling to stay connected with the rest of the state. The failure of Spencer Dam took out a pair of routes over the Niobrara River, and the only ways out of Boyd County were north into South Dakota or west into Keya Paha County, Fox said.
Colorado Springs and the four parties suing the city now have an extra month to either settle a longstanding lawsuit over federal stormwater permit violations or agree how to continue the case in court.
U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch in December ordered the case paused until this month so the parties could find common ground. The lawsuit was to restart last week, but Matsch extended the break by more than a month.
Now the parties have until April 12 to agree on next steps, or the case goes back to court.
The request for a break in the case came from the plaintiffs — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — after Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated federal stormwater regulations at three development sites.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
As of mid-February, Colorado’s statewide snowpack sat at 108% of normal. Snowpack is higher in the northern and eastern basins and lower in the southwestern basins. The climate forecasts through the runoff season suggest that these numbers could climb higher as fore- casts indicate a wet spring statewide.
Higher snowpack percentages can increase the possibility of snow- melt flooding. Generally, watersheds are monitored for this once they reach 130% snowpack. Currently, no watersheds exceed this threshold, but state officials continue to monitor conditions due to the wet climate forecast moving forward. To view snowpack conditions and better understand the potential flood threat in your location, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) and Snow Course Data and Products page.
It is worth mentioning that, as indicated by looking back through Colorado’s history, the majority of flooding events occurring through- out the state are rain-based and not snowmelt-based. In fact, the last year of widespread snowmelt flooding was in 1984, although isolated instances have occurred since then. One area of ongoing concern relates to rain-on-snow events, in which high elevation, late spring rainstorms fall on still surviving snowfields. This can quickly exacerbate runoff and create problems that wouldn’t exist in the absence of either the rain or the snow.
The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which includes 48 mining-related sites around Silverton, is one of six Superfunds nationwide to be part of the study, referred to as an “adaptive management” strategy.
“We are really excited about this for Bonita Peak,” said Christina Progess, Superfund remedial project manager.
In May 2017, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt formed a task force to think about ways to speed up Superfund cleanups, which in some cases can take decades to complete.
A month later, the task force recommended an “adaptive management” strategy that would improve and accelerate the process. Government agencies have used adaptive management since at least the 1970s, but the task force’s move made it formal for EPA.
Kate Garufi, an environmental engineer for EPA who is also chairwoman of the adaptive management task work force, said that some Superfund sites are large and complex, and it can take years to formulate a long-term cleanup plan.
“When you look at Superfund, it’s historically been very linear with a site investigation, evaluating alternatives, selecting a decision and implementing it, which can take a very long time,” she said.
Adaptive management, however, allows the EPA to target quicker projects year to year while a comprehensive solution is investigated, Garufi said.
“We’ll be able to take early actions and see those benefits while we continue to evaluate the entire basin,” she said.
The strategy made perfect sense for Bonita Peak, Progess said, which at 48 individual mining sites across the entire headwaters of the Animas River Basin is one of the larger and more complicated Superfund sites in the country.
As part of the adaptive management, Bonita Peak will be part of the 12-month study, which will set various goals and engage the local community.
“Because we are so early in the investigative process at Bonita Peak, adaptive management will help us set those goals and how to achieve them,” Progess said…
In June 2018, the EPA released a “quick action” plan for cleanup work at 26 mining sites over the next five years to be conducted while the agency comes up with a more long-term, comprehensive strategy to address mine pollution around Silverton.
The plan met resistance from local groups and individuals who say the plan fails to first quantify the benefits and goals that would result from the action plan, which would cost millions of dollars to clean up sites considered smaller contributors of pollution.
Thomas said the adaptive management will help refine that plan. She said a final decision, called an interim Record of Decision, could be issued within the next month or so.
On Wednesday, Thomas also addressed the concern that the partial government shutdown, which lasted 35 days, would cause the EPA to lose a summer season’s worth of work at Bonita Peak.
“Of course everyone here at EPA was dismayed about government shutdown, and it’s good to get back to work,” Thomas said. “Clearly there have been some impacts to the work we were all doing, but we’re doing our best to make sure we can take advantage of a full summer season.”
Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the South Platte Master Plan was launched two years ago 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.
Project representatives will present the plan Feb. 12 at the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors meeting at 9 a.m., then meet with the Logan County Water Conservancy District board at 11 a.m. The plan will be presented again at 1 p.m. at the CSU Engagement Center.
Both conservancy districts are interested in seeing how they can work with the Master Plan…
The LCWCD recently decided to change its focus away from the idea of building a flood control dam across Pawnee Creek. Miller has said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. Instead, the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future.
The Lower South Platte district, meanwhile, is interested in finding water storage potential and funding for storage projects along the lower reaches of the river.
The meetings on Feb. 12 are public meetings but space is limited in all of the venues.
FromThe La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
Peter Nichols, an attorney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, at the agency’s meeting Wednesday, updated the board on the long-standing controversy with Colorado Springs concerning water quality in Fountain Creek…
A lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2017 alleges the City of Colorado Springs’ stormwater system degraded the creek on its way to Pueblo and, eventually, the Arkansas River. The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners and the LAVWCD were permitted to intervene in the case, on the side of the environmental agency.
On Nov. 9, Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.
Following Matsch’s decision, the parties asked the judge to put the litigation on hold for three months, to see if they could agree how to remedy the city’s violations. That request was granted.
The post-trial settlement conferences were scheduled for Dec. 6, 2018; Jan. 10 (which was cancelled because of the federal government shutdown); Feb. 7, March 7, April 11 and May 9.
Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Daniel Strain):
Communities that act now to protect themselves from future hazards like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires can save themselves as much as $11 for every $1 that they initially invest, according to recent research.
The findings are part of an update to “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves.” This landmark report was first published in 2005 by the National Institute of Building Sciences and was led by CU Boulder’s Keith Porter, who also spearheaded the most recent findings.
The report examines how homeowners, developers and municipalities might save lives and money in the long term by implementing a variety of mitigation efforts before a disaster strikes. That might mean raising houses above floodplains or strengthening office buildings against earthquakes.
There’s a lot to be gained from that kind of forward thinking, said Porter, a research professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.
“Natural hazard mitigation saves,” Porter said. “Mitigation can be a costly decision, but this study should help people to make a more informed choice about how to save their property and their wellbeing.”
His research shows that communities in the United States stand to save billions of dollars by making sure that new structures meet, or exceed, the International Building Code—a set of widely-adopted recommendations for designing safe buildings. Such measures could also prevent an estimated 600 deaths and one million injuries at the same time.
Porter and his colleagues released their findings this week at the Building Innovation 2019 conference in Washington, D.C.
The report comes after a record-breaking wildfire season in California. This year, one blaze alone—the Camp Fire—killed more than 80 people and consumed roughly 14,000 homes in the northern part of the state.
It also matters for Colorado, where large numbers of residents are vulnerable to wildfires and flooding. Wildfires burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Colorado in 2018—one of the worst fire years on record for the state. Historic flash floods in September 2013 destroyed or damaged thousands of homes across the Front Range.
More stringent codes can limit some of the biggest losses from such events, Porter said. Most states and communities in the U.S. have requirements for how buildings weather natural hazards. But research suggest that they may not go far enough, and many older buildings still fall short of these codes.
Porter pointed to the case of existing codes that require homes to sit a foot above the 100-year flood level…
“That doesn’t make your house floodproof. There’s still a significant chance that a flood would be higher than that,” Porter said. “It’s actually cost-effective in many places to build up to 5 feet above the base flood elevation.”
To put numbers on the benefits from such mitigation efforts, Porter and his colleagues turned to a wide range of data to write their 2005 report. That includes records from past disasters and computer simulations that test how buildings might respond to future floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.
What they found in the most recent update was staggering: While the benefits vary from place to place, communities in the U.S. on average may save $11 in the decades ahead for every $1 they spend now to meet current building codes. Going beyond those codes, too, can bring an extra $4 for every $1 spent.
Those gains come in a variety of forms. When buildings are built to better withstand earthquakes, for example, more stores stay open after a big tremor and fewer people go to the hospital for injuries.
The new round of numbers, together with a related report published last year, were also the first to look at the benefits that come from safeguarding buildings against wildfires. According to the team’s calculations, communities living at the edges of forests can save $4 for every $1 they spend to plan ahead for flames. Common recommendations include creating “defensible” spaces free of brush and other flammable material around homes.
“As we saw from the California wildfires last year, that’s crucial,” Porter said. “If you don’t build for fire resistance, you run a much higher risk of having your home burn down.”
He acknowledges that those sorts of measures can be costly in the short term. But Porter hopes that his group’s findings will motivate governments and other entities to do more to help home and business owners plan for the inevitable.
“You can spend money up front to better prepare for a disaster, and that should save you in the long run,” Porter said.
Winter in Colorado marks an exciting time of year. It means skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. But winter can also mean dangerous driving conditions.
What we do to help mitigate dangerous road conditions can take a toll on our natural resources if we are not careful. What we put on our roads and driveways today may end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams tomorrow. Salt, sand, and deicers make their way into storm sewer systems and travel into local water bodies. Concentrated doses of chloride-based deicers are potentially lethal to aquatic plants and invertebrates. The introduction of sand to waterways can increase turbidity and degrade both the aesthetics and quality of the water.
Consider these best practices during the winter to help reduce pollution in our local bodies of water.
Shovel your driveway early during a snowfall and maintain it throughout. This will reduce the need for salt, sand, and other deicing agents by preventing ice from build-up on your driveway.
Use deicers according to manufacturer’s recommendations and use salt and sand sparingly, and only as needed.
Sweep up excess sand, salt, and deicers.
Consider environmentally friendly alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), or cracked corn for traction.
For more information on Stormwater, visit Greeleygov.com/Stormwater
Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:
Thanks to grant funding totaling $4.6 million awarded through FEMA to the State of Colorado, work will soon begin on two separate mitigation projects in Colorado Springs to restore a severely degraded drainage channel along Douglas Creek and Pine Creek.
The first grant, for $2,612,325, will fund a bank stabilization project along a 1,100-foot stretch of Douglas Creek, just south of Garden of the Gods Road that is threatening I-25, Sinton Road, major utilities and surrounding business property. This area eroded during 2013 and 2015 flood events, continues to erode today and was identified as a finding in the 2013 EPA audit of the City’s MS4 permit.
When complete, this stretch of Douglas Creek will be designed to withstand a 100-year flood event. It will function as a natural stream corridor, build resilience in future events by restoring floodplain function, and will help downstream communities by reducing sediment in the Fountain Creek watershed.
The second grant, for $2,005,125, will fund restoration and stabilization along a 1,750 foot section of Pine Creek that has experienced signification erosion and bank failure since the 2013 flood. This project will use natural channel construction to reconnect with the natural floodplain and will utilize an upstream detention pond to be constructed separately by the City. The stabilization of this area will protect adjacent properties and significantly reduce a heavy sediment load currently impacting downstream areas.
FEMA’s grant represents 75 percent of the total cost for the project; total cost is approximately $3,483,100 for Douglas Creek and approximately $2,673,500 for Pine Creek. The 25 percent match will come from the City.
The 25 percent local grant match funding was made possible through a provision in the City’s Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo that earmarks funds that can be leveraged toward grants for much larger projects.
Federal funding is provided through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to assist states, U.S. territories, federally-recognized tribes, and local communities in implementing a sustained pre-disaster natural hazard mitigation program. The goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on federal funding in future disasters.
City officials announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide a $4.6 million grant from a pre-disaster mitigation program, designed to reduce risk and spending from future disasters.
FEMA is paying 75 percent of the cost of two projects to stabilize creek banks and stop erosion caused by flooding in 2013 and 2015.
The city will use $2.6 million of the grant on a section of Douglas Creek, below Sinton Road and south of the interchange at Interstate 25 and Garden of the Gods Road.
Erosion at that location is affecting two adjacent commercial properties, has already damaged some utility lines and could eventually undermine Sinton Road.
The city will use the remaining grant on a similar project in Pine Creek, near the intersection of Briargate Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive.
Homes line both sides of the creek but are closer on the north side, where some work has been done to improve drainage and reduce erosion.
The Pine Creek project will include an upstream retention pond to prevent flash flooding and erosion by holding runoff during heavy storm events and gradually releasing it later.
The actual cost of both projects is $6.1 million but the city is paying 25 percent to qualify for the 75 percent match from FEMA.
Negotiations are underway between Pueblo County, a water conservancy district and environmental protection agencies on one side, and Colorado Springs on the other side, to resolve disputes of many years regarding that city’s defiling of Fountain Creek.
The Pueblo Chieftain has obtained court documents stating that the parties in a two-year-old lawsuit are trying to reach an agreement to settle it, instead of pursuing it further in the U.S. District Court for Colorado.
Both sides have met three times in recent weeks “to discuss potential resolution of the (lawsuit) without further litigation,” states a court document filed last week at the court in Denver. It was filed by Pueblo County commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
Those four entities sued Colorado Springs in 2016, claiming the city violated clean water laws by discharging excessive stormwater and pollutants into the creek, which flows through Pueblo County into the Arkansas River at Pueblo.
After a trial, the judge overseeing the case decided on Nov. 9 in favor of the four entities that sued. Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.
The four entities in the court fight with Colorado Springs state in the new court document that the discussions so far “were productive.” They and the city asked the judge to put litigation on hold for three months, to see if they can agree how to remedy the city’s violations.
“Every time the Springs makes an offer, it is business as usual,” says Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, a plaintiff in the case. “They say, ‘You have seen a list of what we plan on doing, and that’s enough.'”
Officials with Pueblo County and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), also plaintiffs along with the Environmental Protection Agency, say they want to settle, too.
“I am totally convinced that every dollar we’ve spent on litigation is a dollar not going into projects,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart says.
But Winner and Hart say they want an enforceable agreement to assure the city follows through, not a given considering Colorado Springs’ track record of shirking its drainage responsibilities.
And while Suthers cites a 20-year, $460-million intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pueblo County and a new voter-approved stormwater fee as proof the city means business, a state official notes the city still defies the law.
“Many of the violations that Judge Matsch found are ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act,” Patrick Pfaltzgraf, director of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division, says in a statement. He also warns that Matsch “has broad authority” to slam the city with court orders to force the city’s compliance with the Clean Water Act.
At issue is a lawsuit in which regulators allege the city failed to force developers to install necessary drainage infrastructure, thereby allowing sediment and pollution to befoul Fountain Creek south to Pueblo and, via the Arkansas River, to points east and south.
And while Suthers has promised to do better, plaintiffs note the current IGA specifically says the agreement doesn’t bind future city officials to fund it.
“The biggest issue is no one trusts the Springs that they will follow through,” Winner says. “They dissolved the Stormwater Enterprise once. What will stop them from doing it again?”
Indeed, the city’s shoddy and under-funded stormwater controls date back decades and include the flip-flop of adopting stormwater fees in 2007 (without a public vote) only to abolish them two years later after voters approved Issue 300 that barred payments between the city and its enterprises.
Thereafter, the city’s spending on flood control dwindled to less than $2 million a year, and it continued to pollute streams and the Arkansas river.
Then came two scathing audits by regulators in 2013 and 2015, during the tenure of then-Mayor Steve Bach, which resulted in little action. So in 2016, Pueblo County threatened to rescind Colorado Springs Utilities’ construction permit for the $825-million Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir unless the city fixed its drainage problems.
That led to the April 2016 IGA, in which the Springs agreed to construct 71 stormwater projects and improve maintenance. Despite that, the EPA and CDPHE sued in November 2016.
A two-week trial in September addressed just three examples of developments within the city with inadequate stormwater controls, of the city’s hundreds of violations. Matsch found that the city defied its federal discharge permit by waiving water quality requirements in the northeast Indigo Ranch development; by failing to enforce its own rules against the developer of Star Ranch Filing 2, and by allowing installation of a misdesigned drainage basin at MorningStar at Bear Creek.
In a statement issued after Matsch’s ruling, Suthers lamented the lawsuit’s cost — already more than $3.3 million — and blamed the plaintiffs. “[I]f the state and EPA insist on continuing to litigate every issue, we have no choice but to continue to do so,” he wrote, noting the city has taken “extraordinary steps” toward creating “the best stormwater program in the state.”
But Winner says the city, not the plaintiffs, refuses to enter into a consent decree that would end the lawsuit.
Although plaintiffs haven’t floated dollar figures in penalties or additional drainage requirements, Winner and Hart say they want a deal that’s enforced by an outsider to ensure the city adheres to its conditions.
“Citizens would like that — to see they’re getting their dollar’s worth,” Winner says. “How can we be sure they’re going to spend that $460 million unless there’s some consent order? They [city officials] want to self-audit. What I want is a third-party audit, and I think Pueblo would see it the exact same way.”
Says Hart, “I’m willing to talk about anything to resolve the case.” But, given the city’s past flip-flop on stormwater, he, too, wants more than a handshake.
“What we worry about is making sure everything we enter into isn’t based purely on trust, but that it’s what we agreed to and it’s enforceable,” he says, adding, “Honestly, I don’t know if the city is ready, willing and able to settle.”
He bases that thought on two things: First, Hart, an attorney, ran into Suthers, who’s also a lawyer, at the State Fair where the mayor expressed disappointment there’d been no settlement. Hart told him that Pueblo County wants to discuss it. He says nothing happened. Second, “There was conversation a week or so before the judge’s order came out about whether a settlement discussion might be appropriate,” he says, “and I have not heard back.”
He adds, “I don’t think either community is benefited by constantly slugging it out in court.”
Winner agrees and wonders why the city seems bent on letting the lawsuit move ahead to a trial of dozens of violations and a determination of sanctions.
Richard Mulledy, the city’s stormwater manager, said the city annually builds 65 projects at a cost of $12 million.
“Five to 10 of those are major projects, maybe $500,000 or more,” he said.
Among the projects this year, the city recently finished construction of a retaining wall on the north end of Centennial Boulevard.
“It traps sediment that runs off from a steep hill after it rains,” he said. “Before, it would accumulate on the road and on the cul-de-sac of an adjacent neighborhood. Now it traps the sediment so that we can safely remove it. It saves us time and money. We identified this as a need five years ago.”
Kris Gates has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years.
“It’s been an issue ever since I moved in here,” she said. “No one told us about it. But the city came in, repaired the damaged curbs and sidewalks, and even part of our driveways. They repaved the cul-de-sac. It looks nice now. We’ll see if it passes the first test when it rains.”
Among projects planned for next year are several retention basins, including one underground on two blocks of Vermijo Avenue downtown.
The city began assessing a stormwater fee this summer to finance stormwater projects. Much of previous work was paid for with TABOR refunds, in which voters gave the city permission to keep excess tax revenue.
The fee was pushed by [Mayor John Suthers] and approved by voters last fall.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch heard the case in early September in a trial that lasted for more than a week. He issued his findings Friday afternoon.
Matsch ruled that the city violated its federal stormwater permit at Indigo Ranch North, a development at Stetson Ridge; Star Ranch, a luxury homes community on the city’s southwest side; and MorningStar at Bear Creek, a senior living center.
Matsch, who has yet to rule on other allegations against the city, did not say whether the city will face penalties for the violations…
In his ruling, Matsch wrote that city officials waived best stormwater management practices at Indigo Ranch North without sufficient justification. City officials also did not adequately oversee construction at the Star Ranch development to ensure compliance with stormwater requirements.
The city was obligated under those stormwater rules to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged from sites, which can erode stream banks, degrade water quality and harm downstream communities.
Stormwater from all three sites discharged into either Sand Creek or Fountain Creek farther downstream.
Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas District cited increased E. coli levels, erosion and flooding as a result of Colorado Springs’ failure to properly corral stormwater.
City officials approved the design and installation of a detention basin at MorningStar that did not meet drainage requirements set in 2002, Matsch wrote. They also failed to ensure “adequate long-term operation and maintenance” of that basin…
Matsch wrote that he found “a pattern of the city tolerating delays in correcting the problems reported.”
While the EPA initially encouraged people and businesses to file claims for financial losses, the agency backtracked in January 2017, saying it was legally protected from any damages associated from the spill.
The states of New Mexico and Utah, as well as the Navajo Nation, filed lawsuits seeking compensation. New Mexico is seeking $130 million, Utah is seeking $1.9 billion, and the Navajo Nation is seeking $130 million.
Over the summer, the EPA, through the Department of Justice, filed similar requests to dismiss the claims, arguing the agency is protected from litigation under federal law.
The motion filed Thursday argues the same point in seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that represents about 300 individual members of the Navajo Nation who claim a cumulative of $75 million in damages…
The Department of Justice’s motion argues the EPA is protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which gives federal agencies a “discretionary function exemption.”
The EPA was acting according to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act by evaluating the mine for remediation and preventing environmental pollution of the Animas River watershed when the inadvertent release occurred, the motion states.
The motion states that so far, the EPA has spent $29 million on past and continuing efforts to address mine pollution in the Animas River watershed, including building a temporary water treatment plant and designating the area as a Superfund site.
The stage was set for a blowout at the Gold King Mine years before the EPA became involved in the situation.
With the plugging of the American Tunnel, many researchers and experts of the mine district around Silverton believe the waters of the Sunnyside Mine pool backed up, causing the Gold King Mine to discharge mine wastewater…
The lawsuit on behalf of Navajo members says the spill, which carried arsenic and lead, prevented them from using water for their crops and care for their animals, as well as personal use…
Ferlic said a hearing Monday will brings together her clients, the states of Utah and New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation, to set a date to discuss the motions to dismiss.
Study compared metal loading in both events; results surprised researchers
A new report shows that runoff from the 416 Fire burn scar this summer dumped higher concentrations of potentially toxic metals into the Animas River than the Gold King Mine spill three years ago…
It has been a rough couple of years for the Animas River.
In August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally caused the Gold King Mine, near Silverton, to blow out, sending 3 million gallons of toxic waste down the Animas River, turning it orange.
Then, this July, heavy rain fell over the 416 Fire burn scar in the Hermosa Creek drainage, just north of Durango, and sent a torrent of black mud, rocks and other debris down the Animas River.
After both events, Mountain Studies Institute, an environmental research and education nonprofit, extensively monitored and researched the impacts on aquatic life and water quality in the Animas River.
Though only a few months removed from the July floods, the preliminary data show the impacts of the Gold King Mine spill pale in comparison to the mudslides and debris flows from the 416 Fire burn scar.
Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said that point was made clear when the 416 Fire runoff caused nearly all the fish in the Animas River to die.
By comparison, there has never been any evidence that the tainted Gold King Mine water caused any die-off of aquatic life.
Roberts’ study backs this with data.
The study took samples at the height of the 416 Fire debris flows on July 17 and July 24 on the Animas River, near Rotary Park, and compared it to samples taken during the mine spill as it passed through the same spot Aug. 6 to Aug. 9, 2015.
Debris flow from 416 Fire. Photo credit: Twitter #416Fire hash tag
Screen shot of Animas River debris flow July 2018 aftermath of 416 Fire (CBS Denver).
416 Fire July 2, 2018. Graphic credit Incweb
The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News
Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
Cement Creek remains lined with orange sediment after the Gold King Mine spill. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the release of orange wastewater laced with heavy metals into Cement Creek on Aug. 5. The creek flows into the Animas River at Silverton, and eventually crosses into New Mexico and Utah
Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent
Acid mind drainage Cement Creek watershed
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Now, fears and frustration over water quality and contamination have become a potent election-year issue, burbling up in races from the fissured bedrock here in Wisconsin to chemical-tainted wells in New Hampshire to dwindling water reserves in Arizona. President Trump’s actions to loosen clean water rules have intensified a battle over regulations and environmental protections unfolding on the most intensely local level: in people’s own kitchen faucets.
In Wisconsin and other Midwestern states where Republicans run the government, environmental groups say that politicians have cut budgets for environmental enforcement and inspections and weakened pollution rules. In Iowa, for example, the Republican-led Legislature dismissed a package of bills that would have blocked any new large-scale hog operations until the state cleaned up its nitrogen-laden rivers and streams.
There are no precise water-quality surveys of the galaxy of private wells that serve 43 million people in the United States, but sampling by the United States Geological Survey has found contamination in about one of every five wells.
Few water-quality rules regulate those wells, meaning there is no water company to call, no backup system to turn to, and often no simple way to cure the contamination. In Flint, lead-tainted water prompted a public health emergency that led to a criminal investigation.
Homeowners say they are forced to choose between installing expensive filtration systems, spending thousands to dig deeper wells, ignoring the problem or moving.
The city announced completion of the project on Oct. 22, noting it’s one of 71 projects the city agreed to complete under a 20-year, $460-million agreement with Pueblo County. Since that deal, inked in 2016, the city has completed six projects, says city spokesperson Vanessa Zink via email.
The work on Sand Creek took 10 months and spanned a half mile, the city said in a release. Crews filled and reshaped the creek, installed grouted boulder drop structures to step the creek down and rebuilt the natural habitat along the creek. “The project raised the bottom of Sand Creek and regraded the banks back to a stable slope to prevent erosion and provide flood protection for up to a 100-year storm event through the half-mile improved section that will ultimately improve water quality for downstream communities,” the release said.
Funding for the project broke down this way: $3.9 million from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant; $600,000 from the state and $1.5 million from the city.
To learn more about USGS’ role providing science to decision makers before, during and after #Florence, visit the #USGS Hurricane Florence page at https://www.usgs.gov/florence
The floodwaters that covered wide swaths of the Carolinas’ coastal plain are finally receding, more than two weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall Sept. 14 near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and U.S. Geological Survey hydrographers are moving in rapidly to the areas where the flooding lingered longest. About 30 flood experts are in the second week of a high water mark campaign, traveling from one hard-hit community to the next, searching neighborhood by neighborhood and sometimes door to door for physical evidence of flooding.
The USGS experts are looking for telltale lines of seeds, leaves, grass blades and other debris left behind on buildings, bridges, other structures and even tree trunks as floodwaters recede. Once they find these high water marks, they label them, photograph them, survey them, and record crucial details about them.
The USGS flood experts’ field work is highly skilled and time-sensitive, because high water marks can be obliterated by weather and by property owners’ cleanup efforts. Hydrographers have been in the field collecting high water marks each day since Sept. 18, working mostly in two-person teams and moving as quickly as receding waters and the scope of the work permits. The teams from the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center, which covers the Carolinas and Georgia, have recorded more than 600 high water marks in North and South Carolina and surveyed at least 365 of those. Field crews expect to record many more as they move into communities like Conway, South Carolina, where the floodwaters have not yet finished their retreat. You can see some preliminary results of their work at the USGS Flood Event Viewer for Hurricane Florence: https://stn.wim.usgs.gov/FEV/#FlorenceSep2018
Why is this fieldwork important? The physical signs of flooding provide valuable information that can confirm or correct other lines of evidence. Among these are measurements from a network of about 475 permanent and temporary river and streamgages that were in place in North and South Carolina when Florence struck; more than 175 stream and river flow measurements taken by field crews after the storm on flood-swollen rivers, streams and even roads; satellite photos and imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones); and computer modelled flood projections. Taken together, all this evidence will allow USGS experts to reconstruct precisely where, when, at what depth, and in what volume floodwaters inundated the region.
Right after the storm, the USGS’ early information from high water marks can help emergency managers decide where to locate relief centers, so that aid can reach the most severely affected communities quickly, and can help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage flood control.
In the coming weeks USGS flood information can help the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discern the difference between wind and water damage – important information for property owners and insurers. Over the long term, it can help emergency managers plan better for future floods; improve the computer models used by the National Weather Service to forecast flooding; and provide information used by FEMA to update the nationwide flood zone maps that underpin the federal flood insurance program.
“I am proud of the USGS staff’s speed, thoroughness and accuracy as they do this essential work in difficult conditions, and under the pressure of time,” said USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center director Eric Strom. “The team began working well before Florence made landfall, when field crews began installing storm-tide sensors along the coast. Right after the storm passed, we mobilized as many as 60 people at a time to fix or relocate streamgages that were damaged or destroyed, monitor the flooding, and work with forecasters and emergency managers to get them the up-to-date flood information they needed. And now, because the rivers have receded so slowly, we’re in the midst of a long high water mark campaign in two states.
“It’s been a sustained, coordinated effort in response to a hurricane that triggered record-setting floods.”
Preliminary USGS data indicates that Florence’s heavy rains resulted in 19 water level records on rivers and streams in North Carolina and 10 records in South Carolina. Rivers that reached or exceeded the major flood stage heights forecast by the National Weather Service included the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear, Neuse, Lumber, Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Black and Lynches rivers.
The flooding in the Carolinas was long-lasting, with several rivers experiencing two peaks of high water flow or flood stage. The first one happened as local rainfall flowed into rivers and streams, and the second one came as rain that fell near the rivers’ headwaters worked its way downstream. In Goldsboro, North Carolina, about 100 miles inland from Florence’s landfall, the Neuse River escaped from its banks, crested at 27.6 feet on September 18, and lingered above the 18-foot flood stage mark for almost a week. The last two rivers to peak were both in South Carolina: the Little Pee Dee on Sept. 25 and the Waccamaw River on Sept. 26.
“Unfortunately, our experience dating back to the 1940s shows that the Carolina coastal plain is a flood-prone region,” said the center’s South Carolina-based associate director John Shelton, who was the on-site coordinator for much of the USGS response. “The scientific knowledge we’re gaining now will be put to good use helping to protect lives and property if and when floods strike this area again.”
For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.
Using dynamic forecasting models, climate scientists like Andreas Prein are looking at how intense rainstorms are changing over the coming decades.
Prein, a climate modeling scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, said warmer climates are leading to more frequent heavy rainfalls. Since 1950, the number of three-inch rainfalls in a day has increased about 25 percent across the U.S., according to Chad Gimmestad, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service Office in Boulder. Prein explained that the warmer air holds more moisture, so when rain falls more water is dumped than normal in cooler conditions.
“We have stronger evaporation over the ocean because it’s warmer, and then this moisture is transported over the continent,” Prein said. “It is basically exactly what happened in 2013 during the Colorado flood.”
Looking at the regional trends, Gimmestad said the heaviest two rainfalls expected in a year have increased about 10 to 20 percent in the western U.S. In Colorado, where there were once a two-and-a-quarter inch rainfalls, forecasters see two-and-a-half inch rainfalls, he said. While that increase isn’t as large as it is in the eastern U.S., where the heaviest rainfalls in a year have increased from 30 to 60 percent, it still has a significant effect.
“That’s when your flood occurs, so you just made your flood 10 percent bigger,” Gimmestad said..
Prein said the Front Range’s major flood events are often related to a stream of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico from the south traveling north along the mountains and turning west to create upslope flows. As the mountains push the moist air upwards, the heavy rainfalls are practically anchored by the mountains. Gimmestad, who commuted from Greeley to Boulder during the floods, said forecasters knew something big could happen from the weather patterns in 2013, but seeing it was something else. Gimmestad drove to Boulder on the night of Sept. 12, the second night of the heaviest rain during the flood. After about three hours of driving around, he found the one bridge still above the water over Boulder Creek. By the time he drove back to Greeley the morning of Sept. 13, he had to go out to Kersey because everything upstream on the Platte had flooded…
Laura Read, a water resources engineer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said the heavy rainfalls led to sustained flooding because of the Front Range’s relatively flat topography next to the steep gradient of the foothills. Residents in areas like Milliken didn’t see the flooding go down for as long as two weeks because the flood brought the groundwater table up, she explained. As the water came up from the ground from the 2013 flood, it caused additional damages to structures…
Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, said scientists of just a few years ago were asking the wrong question about climate change’s effect on extreme weather events. Where scientists before framed the conversation about whether or not climate change caused extreme weather, they’re now looking at how it impacts these cyclical events.
“Climate change may not have caused them, but they add to their intensity. It adds to their frequency. It can add to their duration,” Udall said.
Scientists are still hashing out the degree to which climate change impacted the 2013 flood, Udall said. Heavier rainfalls, drier soils and growing risk for wildfires — which leads to more erosion, Read explained — are expected with the warming climates, experts said. Though there’s not yet enough data to definitively say whether these conditions will lead to more events like the 2013 flood, Udall said climate change is creating unprecedented weather events.
“We’re now in an era, because of climate change, where all the sudden our predictability has gone away,” he said. “We need to be prepared for really bad outcomes.”
The fast-moving water as a result of a storm system stalled over the Front Range inundated parts of Loveland, Lyons, Greeley and Boulder. Fort Collins saw little damage, though the flood temporarily impacted the ability to get in and out of the city.
Nine deaths were attributed to the flooding — two in Larimer County — and an estimated 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed statewide, according to a Coloradoan report at the one-year anniversary of the flood. Parts of U.S. Highway 34 and other roadways were washed away.
The September 2013 flood ranks among the worst natural disasters in Colorado history, according to reporting during that time. The flood changed the landscape of Northern Colorado and led to years of rebuilding, including projects that just wrapped up this year.
The evidence can be seen in a new network of water gauges, a bolstered mass-notification system, and in the memories of residents five years after the 2013 flood rushed into Loveland. The wisdom will be useful if — more likely, when — another flood takes place in Larimer County.
“Floods are part of life here,” said Loveland Fire Rescue Authority Capt. Pat Mialy as she sat down with a 3-inch-thick binder titled “Flood Master Plan.” “Loveland is built at the bottom of a canyon; some things we can do nothing about, but we can help people become more prepared.”
Mialy, who is also Loveland’s emergency manager, said the city has an integral part in the Flood Master Plan, which encompasses the Big Thompson’s entire path through Larimer County, not just the flow at the mouth of the canyon.
Mialy said zooming out and viewing Loveland as a part of other communities marks one of the key differences between the 2013 flood and the next inevitable flood. After all, storms don’t care about ZIP codes.
“We’re listening to Estes Park, we’re listening to Glen Haven,” Mialy said, alluding to a network between agencies that have strengthened ties since 2013. “All our flood systems were integrated; they all speak to each other.”
A network of gauges and number crunchers watches over Loveland and other Larimer communities. The county’s floodplain administrator, Eric Tracy, said if there’s heavy water upstream, he knows about it.
Tracy told the Reporter-Herald that in the 2013 flood, waters washed away the only U.S. Geological Survey water level gauge monitoring flow through the Big Thompson Canyon, and with it, any doubts that the county needed better ways to watch the water.
“It was a very reactive approach before 2013,” Tracy said, motioning toward a pole-mounted camera at the U.S. 34 bridge near Sleepy Hollow Camp. He said the Colorado Department of Transportation uses it to get video footage of the bridge, but that means almost no upstream warning when a flood might overtake the road or worse, wash it away.
Tracy said that, ironically, he and many other flood plain administrators were in Steamboat Springs for a convention the day the 2013 flood ripped through Larimer County. He rushed back as fast as he could to handle the damage…
“The next six months were a nightmare,” Tracy said, noting that his cellphone was a nonstop stream of emergency notifications at that time.
Now, his cellphone still gives him notifications as water moves around the canyon, but he gets them hours before a flood event, when preventative measures can be ordered. Different monitoring locations are programmed with low-, medium- and high-priority warnings that all reach Tracy’s phone, as well as many other devices.
That’s because today, the bridge over Sleepy Hollow, among other locations, has some new gadgets.
“It’s a tipping cup,” Tracy said, now pointing to the top of a metal pole in the ground. He explained that the cup acts as a rain gauge: when it fills up to a certain amount, it tips over. It then counts the number of tips over time and transmits that data back to the county.
Also new is a water pressure transducer, which measures the depth of the water based on the pressure.
Another gadget, mounted on the side of the bridge, bounces sonar off the surface of the river to measure real-time water levels, Tracy said. Best of all, that sonar detector won’t wash away unless the bridge does.
The measurements mean numbers, and those numbers — in the hands of civil engineers such as Tracy — mean real-world information. Combining the data with a geomorphic map of the flood plain, and the county can figure out when and where flooding will occur.
Now, new rain and water flow gauges have been placed at several places in upstream Larimer. According to Tracy, water gauges exist at Sleepy Hollow Camp, Olympus Dam, Mary’s Lake Road, Fall River, Devil’s Gulch, Glen Haven and Drake, among others in rural water flow areas.
“The data will help the National Weather Service ground truth on what they see on their radar systems and will assist in the accurate execution of weather alerts for the Big Thompson basin,” Tracy said. ” The data will also be used in real time in the Emergency Operations Center for large flood events to assist emergency personnel and road and bridge crews in the field.”
Mialy said Loveland authorities are privy to the same information, and they can view it on a dashboard with other agencies.
Lori Hodges, director of Larimer County’s Office of Emergency Management, said the 2013 flood marked a large shift in the county’s emergency preparedness — it also marked a change in her career.
“What’s new since 2013?” Hodges reflected, “Well, my office didn’t exist in 2013. … I was hired because of the flood.”
Hodges said that day one on the job, she updated the county flood plan to reflect the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office’s request for a broader plans, both geographically and socially.
“Before it was a response-based program,” Hodges told the Reporter-Herald. “They needed to look more broadly at mitigation.”
Part of that mitigation means preparing the public for an emergency flood and keeping them away from danger areas.
Sometimes, preparedness is as simple as knowing your neighbors, Hodges said. In the wake of both the 2013 flood and the 2012 High Park Wildfire, both of which called for federal emergency aid, Larimer County created Larimer Connects, a program designed to bridge gaps between county residents.
According to the program’s website, Larimer County has had the most federally declared disasters in Colorado; the website goes on to say that with a track record like that, it’s necessary for Coloradans to expect the worst, especially in unincorporated areas such as Glen Haven and Red Feather Lakes, both of which have created emergency plans since previous disasters.
Larimer Connects offers assistance in creating community hubs such as the North 40 Mountain Alliance, a self-sustaining nonprofit group surrounding Red Feather Lakes.
“The one thing we really did learn from the flood is that when communities are more connected, the better they do when there was a flood,” Hodges said. “It’s social capital; that will cause people to recover faster and better.”
Larimer Connects intends to build resilience within communities by connecting them to resources and each other.
Hodges said that ironically, densely populated areas such as Loveland and Fort Collins have less social capital; neighbors aren’t as tight or reliant on one another, meaning disasters can cause even more disruption.
Everbridge over troubled waters
Mialy said agencies within the county have no problem notifying one another of impending floods — thanks to the new data network — but that’s not enough: Residents must also be aware.
Since the 2013 flood, Loveland has urged residents to sign up for the Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority LETA911 emergency notification system that alerts residents of oncoming or current dangers.
Mialy said the system works almost exactly like an Amber Alert, which automatically notifies all cellphones in a given area of an abduction or other threat.
The problem is, Larimer County doesn’t have the authority to push notifications unless residents sign up.
When signed up, the system uses Everbridge, a mass-notification system to show road closures, evacuation notices and other warnings to all registered devices.
Loveland Fire Rescue Authority emergency management specialist Lenny Layman said through that system, authorities can type a message and draw a polygon on a digital map. When they say “go,” that message is delivered to any and all devices set up within that polygon.
With this system, law enforcement or emergency responders notify the public of an incident before residents feel the need to call dispatch.
He said this could prove especially useful in the event of a flood, when authorities can figure out exactly which neighborhoods could end up underwater.
Users can set up for notifications at multiple addresses. For instance, parents can add their child’s school to the list so they can receive notifications even if they aren’t near an affected area.
Moreover, LETA911 can ping a multitude of channels, including email, landlines, pagers and cellphones using both calls and texts.
“The more information we can send, faster, the more lives saved,” Leyman said. “But you have to opt into Everbridge.”
Mialy said that in her eyes, Loveland has only become stronger since 2013, despite the fact that the city remains in disaster recovery mode.
“We can’t prevent natural disasters,” Mialy said. “But we can identify all our weaknesses.”
In the weeks leading up to September 2013, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office was in the midst of emergency preparedness training.
In a sense, they were ready when a slow-moving cold front stalled over Colorado on Sept. 9, dropping several inches of rain. By the 15th, there was widespread flooding across a 200-mile stretch of the Front Range, including as far south as Colorado Springs and as far north as Fort Collins. A state of emergency was declared in 14 counties, including Weld.
Although deputies were fresh off emergency preparedness training, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said the floods identified critical deficiencies in the county’s infrastructure, namely communications.
“That’s something you don’t see everyday,” Reams said. “You don’t think about potential communications problems when you’re working a normal day in law enforcement.”
Colorado’s shared statewide communications system for emergency responders, pushed for in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and again following 9/11, was the first to go, Reams said. It became overloaded and essentially worthless as flooding affected Boulder County, then all of Larimer County and finally all of Weld County.
When deputies abandoned the statewide system, they moved to cell phones, their secondary mode of communication, Reams said. But callers from throughout the country trying to check in on loved ones clogged the towers. As a last resort, the sheriff’s office orchestrated a lot of its moves by text message.
“Obviously that’s not the best way to conduct business,” Reams said. “The county has since created its own radio infrastructure that allows us to operate on our own platform. The bandwidth in the county has never been better.”
In addition to coordinating emergency response, Reams said the department had issues connecting with off-duty deputies to get them to come into work. Each deputy now has their own county-issued cell phone, so they can be reached in a timely manner in the event of an emergency. The department has also established better employee tracking to know who is available, even officers who are off-duty.
“Everything came down to an ability to communicate,” Reams said. “Once one mode went down, we had to find another mode of communication. Then that went down.
“You can fix almost any problem as long as you have the ability to communicate about it.”
If communications issues weren’t enough, the 2013 floods also illustrated the sheriff’s office error in keeping almost all of its emergency equipment centralized in Greeley. As the South Platte River breached its banks, it damaged 122 bridges and more than 650 lane-miles of road.
“Every major north-south road with a river crossing was completely wiped out,” Reams said. “Balancing equipment needs was a huge challenge as trying to get equipment from the north part of the county to the south was impossible.”
The Sheriff’s Office has since made changes to where it stages emergency equipment throughout the county.
In the city things weren’t quite as chaotic, said Pete Morgan, current Greeley Fire Marshal and the city’s emergency manager at the time of the flood. Fortunately, Greeley had beefed up its public safety communications prior to the flood, including working with cellphone providers to establish priority access to its networks in the event of an emergency. The city has since increased the number of employees across a variety of departments who have priority access to those networks.
But Morgan said the floods did show the fire department’s Water Rescue Team, trained in underwater rescue operations, was not prepared for swift water rescue needs as a result of the flooding.
The department has since gone from zero swift water rescue technicians to 15, with another five set to get their certification in the next year. Every Greeley fire employee with a response job at least has their swift water operations certificate, which is one rung below a swift water rescue technician, Morgan said. The department also has two swift water rescue instructors to perform in-house certification training.
Every fire truck and ladder now carries equipment specific to swift water rescue.
“The benefit with the additional equipment and certifications is when a swift water call comes in, we don’t have to wait for the Water Rescue Team to gear up and come out to the scene,” Morgan said. “We can respond directly with any of our trucks and ladders to begin rescue measures.”
The city also created an Incident Response Team composed of Greeley’s police, fire, public works, water & sewer, public information, risk management, and information technology departments, among others. Representatives from each department meet and train regularly about how to coordinate response efforts.
A trial began Wednesday to determine whether the city of Colorado Springs violated clean water laws by discharging pollutants and large-volume water flows from its storm water into Fountain Creek and other Arkansas River tributaries.
The trial is for a 2016 lawsuit by federal and state.environmental agencies against Colorado Springs. The case is central to long-standing disputes that Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River Valley have with the city for defiling the creek and the river.
The environmental agencies contend the city is responsible for creating a threat to public health because the stormwaters increase levels of E. coli, pesticides and other pollutants into the creek.
The agencies also contend discharge of “extraordinary high levels of sediment impairs (the creek’s) ability to sustain aquatic life, damages downstream infrastructure and communities like Pueblo, worsen flood damage (and) impairs farmers’ ability to irrigate and obtain water to which they are legally entitled under Colorado law.”
Senior Judge Richard P. Match of U.S. District Court in Denver is presiding over the trial that is expected to run at least 10 days.
The Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment as plaintiffs by intervening in the case.
The district is comprised of Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties.
The lawsuit alleges that damage to the creek and river is caused because Colorado Springs’ stormwater system is inadequate, and for numerous years has violated clean water laws by exceeding discharge limits set in permits issued by the state for the system…
An attorney for the city, Steven Perfrement, defended the city’s efforts to operate the system, and to control discharges of pollutants and the volume of water flows. “The city has adopted programs and enforces them.”
The mine spill temporarily closed down recreation in the river and forced farmers to shut off irrigation to their crops. But life in the river? It didn’t change much. The bugs and fish survived and showed no signs of short-term harm. The fish had been living with heavy mineralization of the water for decades.
Crisis averted — until this year…
The Animas began the summer with record low water because of drought and a warm winter. That primed the nearby mountains for a big wildfire. The 416 Fire ended up burning about 55,000 acres around the drainage basin for Hermosa Creek, a tributary of the Animas. Now when it rains over the burn area, a thick sludge washes into the river.
Horn says official surveys haven’t been conducted, but it’s likely the first few ash-laden runoff events killed 100 percent of the fish in a 30 mile stretch of the river.
“You could literally see the fish coming to the banks gasping for air. It physically smothered their gills and their ability to breathe,” Horn says. “So there it was, it didn’t look as bad. It came from a, you could argue, natural source and did way more damage.”
Many western rivers are stressed. They’re pressured by drought, pollution, overuse by cities and farmers and runoff from wildfires. The Animas acts as the perfect poster child.
“It certainly is unlucky,” says Scott Roberts, a researcher with the Mountain Studies Institute, a non profit research group based in nearby Silverton. “It’s unlucky now. And it’s been unlucky for throughout time really.”
The river’s facing problems that show themselves, Roberts says, like a vibrant orange smear or a chocolate brown sludge. Or like earlier this summer when the river’s water all but disappeared within Durango’s city limits, recording its record lowest flow in 107 years of data.
But there are many others that don’t draw intense public attention. Before the Gold King Mine spill, and even now, the river receives acidic water laden with heavy metals from the region’s numerous abandoned mines. Adding insult to injury, in July 2018 a truck carrying waste material from the mine site crashed into Cement Creek, another Animas tributary.
“It’s being stressed by drought, being stressed by warmer temperatures. It’s being stressed by runoff from wildfires, being stressed by elevated metal concentrations, being stressed by bacteria, by nutrients,” he says.
Roberts points to studies that showed samples of the river’s water with high levels of bacteria commonly found in humans, likely leached from underground septic tanks.
“I don’t think that the problems that are plaguing the Animas today are unique to the Animas,” says Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell, based in Durango…
In fact, Churchwell says, all these issues are increasingly common throughout the West. Drought, ash-laden runoff and mine pollution are often the norm in western watersheds. The Animas has just experienced the extremes of all three in a short period of time…
But it could be another five to ten years before the Animas is back to its former self, according to water quality specialist Barb Horn.
Old Denver pulsed with H2O, water that snaked through the creeks and irrigation canals crisscrossing Colorado’s high prairie before 150 years of urban development buried most of them or forced them into pipes.
New Denver wants those waterways back.
City leaders are ramping up what they describe as a massive, restorative “daylighting” of buried water channels wherever possible — cutting through pavement and re-engineering old streams and canals to create up to 20 miles of naturalistic riparian corridors. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been committed. Eventual costs are expected to top $1 billion over several decades. This work reflects increased interest worldwide in harnessing water and natural processes to make cities more livable.
Starting in 1858 with the discovery of gold in Colorado’s mountains, Denver developers focused on filling in creeks to make way for the construction of railroads, streets, smelters and housing — all laid out across a grid imposed on the natural landscape. The 184-page Green Infrastructure Implementation Strategy that Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration issued this summer reverses that approach with an inventory of high-priority projects aimed at — to the extent that booming growth and development will allow — reopening and revitalizing waterways.
“It is like undoing history,” project manager Patrick Riley said last week along a newly formed 1,000-foot stretch of Montclair Creek — already attracting geese as big trucks beeped and contractors in neon green vests re-contoured the urban terrain.
The Montclair Creek project marks Denver’s most ambitious and controversial daylighting so far, a $298 million revival of a waterway that flows 9 miles from high ground at Fairmount Cemetery (elevation 5,485 feet) under the north half of the city. Work crews are excavating and rerouting water, digging holes for ponds, and planting native grasses and perennials in four areas: the 130-acre City Park Golf Course, the Park Hill Golf Course, a 1.2-mile greenway along 39th Avenue, and a landscaped “outfall” through a 5-acre Globeville Landing park near the South Platte River (elevation 5,274 feet) west of the Denver Coliseum.
City engineers say that, by reconstructing the urban landscape where possible, they’ll slow down water, filter it through vegetation to remove contaminants, control storm runoff and nourish greenery to help residents endure the climate shift toward droughts and rising temperatures…
While a lack of open land and neighborhood resistance can limit daylighting of long-squelched creeks and canals, increasing volumes of storm runoff — the result of the paving of more and more of the city — require action.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has supported daylighting, recognizing that pipes and concrete channels typically can’t handle surges the way natural creeks and floodplains once did before development…
Other projects in the works:
— Re-exposing a southern branch of Montclair Creek that flows under an area extending from City Park across Colorado Boulevard and eastward along Hale Parkway.
— A $77 million removal of concrete and widening of the Weir Gulch that runs through southwestern Denver from South Sheridan Boulevard to the South Platte River.
— A $26 million revitalization of Harvard Gulch in south-central Denver.
— The $249 million enhancement of the South Platte, reshaping and widening river banks between Sixth and 58th avenues, to create an ecosystem healthy enough for trout to reproduce through Denver.
— Converting portions of the 71-mile High Line Canal irrigation system, built in 1883 and owned by Denver Water, into a greenway and refuge.
— Other waterway projects that city officials are discussing involve naturalistic re-engineering of concrete trapezoidal channels in Montbello, flood-prone gullies in Globeville, the southwestern Sanderson Gulch, and buried channels citywide where alluvial sediment indicates creeks once flowed before settlers arrived.
Denver innovations include installing an ultraviolet water-cleaning station at the Montclair Creek outfall to boost natural processes in zapping chemical contaminants, an expanding array from antibiotics to antidepressants, before water reaches the South Platte.
Along Brighton Boulevard north of downtown, city crews also built 56 cement boxes, designed to hold native grasses and flowers in a replaceable soil mix that includes ground-up newspaper, to filter runoff water so that less pollution reaches the South Platte…
Dealing with floods by trying to funnel more and more runoff into culverts and pipelines has become increasingly costly and ineffective, city officials said. A recent city study estimated that dealing with worsening storms by installing more pipelines would cost taxpayers $1.4 billion.
But it’s unclear whether a new approach of embracing waterways will be cheaper in the long run.
As work crews neared completion of the Montclair Creek outfall by the South Platte, project manager Riley said recreational benefits and a need for places “where water could percolate out naturally” — rather than costs — are driving this push that has unified support from city leaders.
“You have to do what is right for the health of rivers. That’s part of the health of the city,” Riley said. “You are going to see a return to natural processes.”
According to the complaint filed this week, commissioners approved the floodway expansion over the resistance of local residents, who said the re-mapping would limit development on their private properties — some of which are functioning farms — and cause their flood insurance rates to skyrocket…
The re-drawing was performed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with assistance from Boulder County staff, and was approved last month 2-0 by commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Domenico was absent. When the change officially takes effect Oct. 1, it will substantially widen the floodway along portions of Lower Boulder Creek northwest of Erie.
A floodway is a narrow channel where, in the event of a flood, water will be flowing. A floodplain is where shallow water is likely to be during the event of a flood, though shallower and flowing at a lower volume, if at all, than water in a floodway.
The former, by definition of Boulder County’s standards, is more heavily regulated than a floodplain. Land regulated under floodway status is often limited to very specific redevelopment.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs’ efforts to have the hearing delayed to learn more about proposed expansion went unheeded…
The Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015 changed the definition of a floodway, triggering a review of flood-hazard areas across the state. Wheeler Open Space, however, was not reassessed, given the lack of residential buildings on the land, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said earlier this year.
In light of the planned oil and gas development on the site, a modeling with the new standards was performed. Under the new guidelines, the entirety of well site Section 1, which is in the open space, is within a floodway, according to documents Boulder County submitted in mid-April with its formal comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Join Water Education Colorado on September 18 for a 5th anniversary, full-day tour of the 2013 flood-affected zone along the Front Range (to begin and end in Loveland). Jump on the bus with lawmakers, water managers, attorneys, engineers and members of the public to get an up-close look at various recovery projects. Participants will learn about the initial actions that were taken to protect lives and property as well as the subsequent projects that were undertaken to recover and build resilience. View the draft agenda here, then hurry and reserve your spot today. Seats are limited!
City stormwater fees, approved by voters in November 2017, will finally be billed this month. For most, the fees aren’t based on impact — or square footage of impermeable surface, such as rooftops or driveways, that lead to runoff. Instead, residential properties will pay a flat $5 a month, whether for a palatial estate or a tiny studio apartment, bringing in an estimated $7.9 million a year.
Nonresidential property owners, who are expected to pay around $8.2 million a year, will be billed $30 per developed acre per month. But properties that are 5 acres or less will pay the fee without any adjustment for impermeable surface, while those larger than 5 acres will be charged fees determined by the city’s stormwater manager based on impermeable surface.