C O L O R A D O F O U N D AT I O N F O R W AT E R E D U C AT I O N | S U M M E R 2 0 1 4
Flooded And Coming Back Smarter Recovering From September 2013 Mapping Floodplains: An Evaluation of Risk Experts Say, “Get Ready For More Big Floods.” Water = Extreme Headwaters | Summer 2014
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
CFWE Mission in Motion INCREASING AWARENESS
New Citizen’s Guide Coming Soon Dick Stenzel
An all-new Citizen’s Guide on Colorado’s transbasin diversions is in the making! CFWE is proud to add a new desk reference to its popular Citizen’s Guide series. This guide will explore Colorado’s many transbasin diversions and the historical figures, settings and evolving negotiations that brought them about. Plus it will examine current water planning conversations in Colorado regarding the possibility of new transbasin diversions. Preorder your copy to ensure earliest delivery and discounted pricing by calling 303-377-4433, or order online at yourwatercolorado.org! The spillway at Granby Reservoir, a feature of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s collection system
Save The Date!
2014 Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference
“Come Hell or High Water!” October 7-9, 2014 in Avon, CO
Join us for the year’s best conference on Colorado water! Participants on CFWE’s two-day Yampa Basin Tour in June 2014 enjoyed an evening reception at Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden.
Get On The CFWE Tour Bus All aboard! In June 2014, CFWE’s Yampa River Basin Tour led more than 50 policy makers and water gurus through the wild wonders of northwestern Colorado. Participants heard from expert speakers at exclusive sites about the relationships between ecological health, river access, thriving communities, agriculture and industry. Have you bought a ticket on CFWE’s water bus? We invite you to hop on one of our interactive tours to investigate the many values associated with water resources:
Our goal is to expand cooperation in natural resource conservation, protection and enhancement by informing participants about new issues, innovative projects and through invaluable networking! This year's conference will explore the spirit of community resiliency in the wake of the 2013 floods, wildfires, and other risks to our watersheds.
September 2014—Explore the power, legacy, benefits and impacts of transbasin diversions in the headwaters of the Gunnison, Arkansas and Colorado rivers. Winter 2014—Get a taste of the beverage industry’s use of water along the Front Range. March 2015—Learn how climate science and water resources are connected at the National Ice Core Laboratory in Lakewood. May 2015—Pedal along on a CFWE bike tour to investigate a waterway’s relationship to urban development, environmental health and community stewardship. June 2015—Discover the subtle beauty and agricultural abundance of the lower Arkansas River on our annual river basin tour. Many thanks to our Yampa Basin Tour sponsors: AMCi Wireless; City of Steamboat Springs; Colorado River District; Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc.; Mount Werner Water District; The Nature Conservancy; and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.
Headwaters | Summer 2014
Sponsorships keep conference fees low! Details at www.coloradowater.org/conferences
CFWE Mission in Motion GROWING CAPACITY
Water Educator Network Calling all water educators! CFWE’s Water Educator Network aims to help build your capacity for providing high-quality water education in your community. Strong and effective programs have the potential to grow the knowledge, change the attitudes and increase the involvement of tens of thousands of Colorado youth and adults annually. CFWE believes this leads to a more active and involved citizenry that advocates for balanced, sustainable solutions. Our new network will offer timely communication, professional networking events, a customized water education resource directory, and technical assistance with our team of experts. Visit the Water Educator Network website at www.yourwatercolorado.org/water-educatornetwork to learn how you can sign up for best practices in water education and help increase our collective impact. Memberships are only $100 to $125 per year. Network members benefit from priority access to trainings and information, such as 2014 summer training topics on water festivals, working with formal education, program evaluation and more! Thank you to our network supporters:
The 2014 Water Leaders class visited Grand County during its second training session in May 2014.
Welcome 2014 Water Leaders CFWE is proud to congratulate its 2014 Water Leaders class! These diverse and talented mid-level water professionals have begun a journey to develop their leadership potential and benefit from extensive self-assessment and networking opportunities with similarly accomplished colleagues. The first training in March 2014 focused on self-awareness and functional team building. The group also examined how regional leaders have effectively built water teams in northeastern Colorado through guest presentations and excursions at the Poudre Learning Center in Greeley. Subsequent trainings will be held in Fraser, Pueblo and Denver. Join us in welcoming these emerging water leaders to your community:
CFWE’s Kristin Maharg and Colorado Springs Utilities’ water educator Birgit Landin on the 2014 Climate and Colorado’s Water Future Workshop. This annual tour features an afternoon dedicated to providing resources to water educators. Now, the new Water Educator Network creates more learning opportunities with regular webinars, events, a newsletter, resources and more.
Jason Carey River Restoration
Steve Malers Open Water Foundation
Adam Cwiklin Town of Fraser
Maria Pastore Grand River Consulting
Aaron Derwingson The Nature Conservancy
Klint Reedy Black & Veatch Corporation
Julia Galucci Colorado Springs Utilities
Gigi Richard Colorado Mesa University
James Henderson 711 Ranch
Jennifer Shanahan City of Fort Collins
Dawn Jewell City of Aurora
Enrique Triana MWH Americas
Laurna Kaatz Denver Water
James VanShaar U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Aimee Konowal CDPHE Water Quality Control Division
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Colorado Foundation for Water Education Board Members Gregg Ten Eyck President Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. Vice President Eric Hecox Secretary Alan Matlosz Treasurer Becky Brooks Nick Colglazier Lindsay Cox Lisa Darling Steve Fearn Rep. Randy Fischer Greg Johnson Pete Kasper Scott Lorenz Dan Luecke Trina McGuire-Collier Kate McIntire Kaylee Moore Reed Morris Sen. Gail Schwartz Andrew Todd Chris Treese Reagan Waskom
Staff Nicole Seltzer Executive Director Kristin Maharg Program Manager Caitlin Coleman Program Associate Jennie Geurts Administrative Assistant Alicia Prescott Development Director
Nicole Seltzer (left) led the celebration of water education at CFWE’s 2014 President’s Award reception with backup from Denver Water’s Katie Knoll.
ummer is here, which in the world of water education means field trip time! I’ve spent the past seven summers planning and executing dozens of trips to connect Coloradans with their water resources. I’ve seen the impact of this work firsthand as an organizer, but it’s not often I get to reverse the role and participate as an attendee. Thanks to Friends of the Yampa, I spent four days in June floating the Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument with 25 river conservation advocates, ecologists and water professionals. The gratitude I feel for the organizers’ time, knowledge and financial commitment is a great reminder of why I, myself, spend summers doing this work. Educational events require a large commitment of resources. But at the end of the day, an outdoor classroom experience cannot be replaced by webinars, blogs or print materials; it’s an essential educational tool in many contexts. One of the topics we discussed around the campfire after riding the waves of a huge spring runoff was how to better connect people to their environment. My opinion was that Colorado needs to invest in water education to a degree not yet realized. Today, most local water education programs are carried out by volunteers or part-time staff persons. But water education is a long-term effort requiring dedicated resources that are difficult to sustain in volunteer or part-time contexts. The importance of water education to our state’s water future is clear and often cited. Numerous local, state and national reports on the path forward identify educating the general public and specific interest groups as a critical need. But the resources currently dedicated to water education pale in comparison to what is required. At CFWE, for example, our educational tours sell out weeks in advance, leaving dozens of people on waiting lists. The problem isn’t interest—it’s capacity to meet that interest. Given the clear need, why hasn’t that investment happened? I’ve lately seen an attitude about water education that, at best, views it as unmeasurable and without definable results and, at worst, as an unnecessary junket. This obviously troubles me, as I see the results of good water education and can easily attest that it is making a difference in our state and local communities. Good water education increases awareness of the severity and complexity of water issues, creating concern and the desire to get involved. Good water education broadens perspectives and helps us walk a mile in another’s shoes, developing compassion for other viewpoints and a willingness to explore rather than disengage in the midst of disagreement. Good water education widens the number of people invested in our water and river systems, producing collaborative solutions that meet multiple needs. Good water education promotes uncommon alliances by connecting people around common interests instead of dividing them with their differences. CFWE will be doing its part through the new Water Educator Network. We aim to build the capacity of local water educators and increase the amount, quality and effectiveness of water education in Colorado. CFWE will provide networking, in-person and remote learning opportunities, information on best practices, and a central repository of trusted, proven lesson plans and curriculum. My hope is that we can “professionalize” water education and thereby better demonstrate its critical value to Colorado’s water future. As a lush Colorado summer begins, I challenge all Headwaters readers to define what you can do to further water education in your communities. Let’s create a commitment that will be the envy of every other western state. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. Happy summer! Executive Director
Mission Statement The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue. 1580 Logan St., Suite 410, Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.yourwatercolorado.org
Headwaters Magazine is published three times a year by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Headwaters is designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2014 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Jayla Poppleton. Designed by Emmett Jordan. Headwaters | Summer 2014
Contents Summer 2014
The Big One 12 By Caitlin Coleman How September 2013 begat the most devastating flood so far this century, and why it could have been worse.
WATER IS… 8 EXTREME Colorado’s pendulum of climate and weather extremes; Could climate change impact flooding in Colorado?
Race to Recovery 17 By Joshua Zaffos
Tragedy brings opportunity as a rush of flood recovery efforts target short-term protection and long-term flood resiliency goals.
One rapid and one less-than-rapid comeback for whitewater parks; The prized greenway that took the hit; How the fish fared.
11 HEALTH When drinking water and wastewater treatment systems meet 100-plus-year floods; Safeguarding systems from future floods.
Coming Home 23 By Rachel Walker
28 And the Winner Is…
Trickling streams beckon communities to a lovely life nearby, but when floodwaters rise, so do questions of risk, responsibility and who bears the cost of repetitive loss. COLO
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Recovering From September 2013 Mapping Floo An Evaluat dplains: ion of Risk Experts Say , “Get Rea dy For More Big Floods.” Water = Extre me
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About the cover: Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger shows off progress to rebuild a badly damaged structure, holding up a picture taken at the same site immediately after the September 2013 flood. Photo by Theo Stroomer Background: U.S. Hwy. 34 east of Greeley. Photo by Mark Goldstein Inset photos by Terry Plummer and Glenn Asakawa (2) 4
Denver-based photographer Theo Stroomer took a break from current work exploring relationships between the environment and communities of Colorado’s North Fork Valley for this issue’s photo assignments in Jamestown. He reports: “The community has made incredible progress in its reconstruction, but there is still an overwhelming amount to be done.” His other work, as the recipient of a grant from the Documentary Project Fund, will be exhibited in 2015.
Caitlin Coleman is a writer and program associate for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. “I had never considered the people and programs dedicated to minimizing flood risk,” she says after working on “The Big One” for this issue. “It was heartening to report on something that personally affected so many—then to hear about the measures we’ve built into society to keep our communities safe.”
In recognition of exemplary water resources stewardship and education, CFWE gives out two annual awards. Meet this year’s winners of the 2014 President’s Award and Emerging Leader Award. By Justice Greg Hobbs
Rachel Walker writes about the environment, the outdoors and parenting from her home in Boulder. When the deluge hit in September 2013, she watched floodwaters rise from nearby Bear Creek, cross the road, and submerge her yard. Understanding the intricacies of the National Flood Insurance Program never seemed more relevant. In covering “Coming Home” for this issue, she was impressed with the grit, knowledge and determination of those impacted.
Kevin Moloney is a Colorado native and freelance photojournalist who has covered western water issues since 1996 for the New York Times and other publications throughout Europe and the United States. He is a frequent contributor to Headwaters. Glenn Asakawa is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has worked at Denver-area newspapers for 25 years and currently works for his alma mater, University of Colorado, Boulder. In shooting for this issue, he says, “I was honored to meet Jeff Crane and the DiSalvos. Their warmth, optimism, love of community and perseverance in spite of such devastating loss and damage is inspirational.”
Fort Collins-based writer Joshua Zaffos got a good feel for the scale of flood recovery efforts after tagging along with his sources for “Race to Recovery” this spring: “Just trying to line up interviews with busy recovery leaders was a challenge, so I gained an appreciation for the coordination and cooperative action that has protected so many properties and restored impacted streams and ditches.”
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Ten Things To Do In This Issue:
Step forward to receive the first copies of CFWE’s newest Citizen’s Guide (page 1).
Block out a few days in October for the annual Sustaining Colorado’s Watersheds conference (page 1).
Read and comment on draft chapters of Colorado’s Water Plan as it takes shape (page 8).
Survey the extent of damages inflicted by Colorado’s most economically destructive flood (page 15).
Support flood victims or recovery efforts through donations of time or money (page 16).
See how an innovative partnership is approaching recovery where the river meets the road (page 20).
Follow the money coming in and being doled out to pay for Colorado’s flood recovery (page 21).
Study the difference between mapped flood risks and the actual flood event of September 2013 (page 25).
Find a map identifying the levels of flood risk affecting your community (page 25).
Meet this year’s winners of CFWE’s President’s Award and Emerging Leader Award (page 28).
When we decided to cover flooding for this issue, we knew we had a timely topic. The September 2013 disaster was fresh on people’s minds. Whole communities were still being pieced back together; state leaders were scrambling to obtain funding toward recovery work; and federal and state agencies were deploying staff to provide consultation to local communities trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of another. Beginning our coverage six months out from the flood, we had the advantage of reporting on ideas, strategies and conclusions not yet fully formulated late last fall when major media outlets were publishing their headline news. And yet, it was an incredible challenge to cover a recovery effort continually unfolding before our eyes. Simply tracking down the people Jayla Poppleton, Editor closest to the work was far beyond the typical effort required on the part of our reporters. Our sources had more than a few important tasks occupying their time and energy, I suppose! The spring runoff as it approached was really putting the pressure on to complete projects and shore up lingering hazards. A huge snowpack was looming in the high country. Everyone braced for the worst—a quick, hot snowmelt and heavy spring rains that would lead to gushing streams and bring down additional debris. Though significant rain fell during runoff, the peak, if it is over as many believe, didn’t reach the height people had feared. For the most part, recovery work completed in the months following the flood proved effective. Already destabilized stream channels and riverbanks were still vulnerable, and new sediment and woody debris flushed down, sometimes in the form of uprooted live trees. But repairs to ditches and headgates have held, and irrigators benefitted from “run-of-the-river” conditions where all water rights were being fulfilled. Most importantly, everyone is safe. Although as we go to print a second peak is still possible, with as-yet unknown results, some experts believe work done to prepare for runoff was over-reactive. Dredging to clear channels of debris, for instance, caused damage that is expected to render stretches of rivers sterile for years to come. It’s one example of how society, in an effort to mitigate risk, doesn’t always recognize or allow for the natural dynamics of rivers, which include periodic flooding, sediment transport and deposition, and channel migration. We’ve hemmed in our rivers and left them little room to function as they once did. And we end up, often repeatedly, paying a steep price. Full recovery from the September 2013 flood is a long way off. Encouragingly, the cooperation, commitment and investment of countless individuals, communities, coalitions and agencies is leading to, in places, solutions to build back smarter than before, in ways that recognize the utterly non-static nature of rivers. But some fear, in the weariness of a long recovery, when people just want to get back in their homes and see life return to normal, the “what-about-the-river?” focus will be lost. Ellen Wohl, a fluvial geomorphologist at Colorado State University, believes society continues to make the mistake of presuming it can engineer flood hazards away. If Wohl had her way, floodplains would be less a place to raise roofs and lay important infrastructure and more a home for natural areas and open space. Not only would society’s risks decrease, but rivers could again begin to function as nature intended. This leads to questions worth pondering, even as we work to rebuild our roads and communities in the same flood-damaged zones: Should we continue to build so close to streams? And if so, can we live with a degree of uncertainty, recognizing that, as tamed as our rivers are in places, they occasionally rear up to assert their wildness? After all, we live upon the Earth, and as smart or prepared as we may believe ourselves to be, we are still at its mercy.
n Jayla Poppleto Editor
Headwaters | Summer 2014
Mother Nature sure can throw a mad curve ball.
Water is Extreme > Recreation > Health
I can be the fire breather or bring a gentle rain, I can be the canyon ripper or swell a honey dew;
I can pat the red dirt down or chant hosanna to the light, I can gurgle from your tap or cut your home in half.
I can carry you along, ripple up a sundown sky, I can cleave a cloud in two, splinter forest sentinels;
I can break and wreck and heave, sever channels tried and true, I can rearrange communities you can help put back together. â€”Justice Greg Hobbs
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
An anonymous photo rescued from the floodwaters Photo by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
And it all Came Down And it all came down Fast and at once No one suspected We’d drown She danced to steps of havoc and defiance Administering doses of careless violence Her mighty roar could not be silenced People trapped Roads collapsed Cars submerged Nature diverged Babbling creeks bursting at their watery seams The places we once loved turned to smithereens She invaded like a snake Leaving destruction in her wake Her biblical rains Swept across the front range No mercy for the towns she had slain From hilltops to mountains She took down thousands Now eight souls Are gone for good And though she’s long gone, Her ghost still remains Lingering in the ruins, we hear Echoes of her watery song. —Erin Gardner, 12th Grade Peak to Peak Charter School, Lafayette Kristie Letter, Teacher Winning Poem, K-12 River of Words Poetry Contest Sponsored by Colorado Humanities www.coloradohumanities.org/content/river-words
Longmont residents wade northward on a flooded Hover Street toward the city’s north side on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. Photo by Lewis Geyer, Longmont Times-Call.
Headwaters | Summer 2014
Water is Extreme
Dust clouds roll across drought-ridden fields near eastern Colorado’s Lamar in spring 2013.
Deconstructing Colorado’s Climate Extremes Colorado is a land of extremes. Severe droughts segue into 1,000-year rains and 100-year floods. It’s all about moisture, says State Climatologist Nolan Doesken—where it comes from, and whether it turns into precipitation. “Because we are far removed from our moisture sources, which are primarily the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, most of the time we are dry,” says Doesken. “There are opportunities for rain and snow, but with weather patterns that only infrequently deliver this moisture, anything that disrupts those occurrences will introduce drought challenges.” In western Colorado, the “wet” season occurs each winter, when the jet stream flowing eastward across the continent is strongest, carrying moisture from the Pacific and lifting it up the western face of the Rocky Mountains. For the eastern part of the state, the wet season begins each spring when the jet stream dies down, allowing wet air masses from the Gulf of Mexico that otherwise move eastward to be drawn north into the center of the country. As Doesken points out, these seasons are only truly “wet” if that moisture is deposited in Colorado via rain or snowstorms. “In any given year, it comes down to the opportunity for roughly six major storms,” he says. “If you get them, you have a wet year. If you get half of them, you are in a middle condition. If they skip over us, you are in a drought.” During 11 of the past 15 years, moderate to extreme drought has plagued at least one region of the state, and in six of those years Coloradans have experienced extreme or exceptional drought. The impact of water shortage on the economy underscores the resource’s importance: The 2002 drought cost various statewide industries $2.8 billion, while the 2012 to 2013 drought cost the agricultural sector alone $726 million. Because of Colorado’s unique climate and topography, the storms we do get can also lead 8
to the other extreme: flooding. “To get rain-induced flooding, you need a weather pattern that brings in a lot of water, and then you need to lift it,” says Jeff Lukas, senior research associate with Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, Boulder. One way this happens is through frontal lifting, when two air masses collide forcing warmer air up and over cooler air. Another way is through convective lifting, where low-level air warms up and rises, resulting in severe thunderstorms. Then there’s terrain lifting. “If you have a 4-, 5-, or 6,000-foot elevation difference, you can have really effective lift and cooling, and the ability to bring precipitation out of moist flow,” says Lukas. This dynamic, in combination with frontal lifting, bore out during September 2013’s historic flooding on Colorado’s Eastern Slope. The Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies can also produce terrain-induced lifting, but the resulting precipitation is usually less extreme for any given event, says Lukas. This is partly because the
change in elevation isn’t as abrupt as along the Front Range, but also because there’s a clearer path for that Gulf of Mexico moisture-laden air to reach Colorado without interruption from other mountain ranges. While the September 2013 flooding was extreme, it wasn’t unprecedented. In fact, says Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, “In a state like Colorado, there’s so much variation we likely experience a 100-year flood somewhere every year, although most are not in populated areas.” On average over the past 100 years, flooding has cost Colorado roughly $85 million a year, with some years contributing more than others to that figure: The September 2013 flood, for instance, caused roughly $3.4 billion in damages. And floods in 1921 and 1965 on the Arkansas River and South Platte respectively, caused $1.1 billion and $2.9 billion in damages in today’s dollars. —Joel Warner
Extreme Planning To equip the state for the inevitable, Colorado’s Water Plan will include sections on drought and flood readiness. “We can’t prevent these things from happening,” says James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency responsible for preparing a draft of the plan by December 2014. “But we think that the water plan can serve to ensure that we have, at the state level, put our resources in place and made them flexible enough to be able to respond to things like this when they happen.” Another section of the plan will focus
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
on watershed health. By reducing the risk of catastrophic forest fire, for example, in addition to addressing other matters of a healthy watershed, the impacts of both droughts and floods can be minimized. “That section,” says Eklund, “will be devoted to disaster mitigation for emergency situations where we can make a difference.” —Jayla Poppleton Find and comment on the draft chapters and framework of Colorado’s Water Plan at coloradowaterplan.com.
Water is Recreation
Watching roads get swept away and towns become islands in the midst of September 2013’s flooding, it’s easy to imagine climate change had a hand in the disaster. But can a warming atmosphere really be blamed for the destruction? And will climate change impact the likelihood and frequency of Colorado flooding in the future? Such questions don’t have easy answers. “We understand a warmer climate is impacting everything now,” says Laurna Kaatz, climate scientist for Denver Water. “But being able to predict individual events that are caused by climate change, that is not something we are able to do.” “The issue is a lot of our floods are associated with extreme weather events,” says Levi Brekke, a researcher for the Bureau of Reclamation's Science and Technology Program. “And the physical processes that serve as precipitators to these extreme events are too small-scale to plug into a lot of our global climate models. The challenge is to have fine-enough-resolution tools to shed light on the picture.” One contributing factor that could be impacted by climate change is the amount of moisture available to be unleashed in the form of rain. Scientists believe warming has led to a 3 to 5 percent increase in atmospheric water vapor globally, but it’s unclear whether that increased vapor will lead to more rain here in Colorado. A recent draft report on climate change prepared for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, for example, noted that climate models weren’t conclusive as to whether the state would see more precipitation by 2050. Nor are researchers convinced Colorado will be among the places expected to experience more extreme rainfall events in coming years. Regarding atmospheric dynamics that turn moisture to rain and determine where it’s going to fall, some researchers believe changes in the jet stream could lead to slower-moving weather systems, leading to longer periods of rain in Colorado and more potential for flooding, says the Western Water Assessment’s Jeff Lukas— but not all scientists agree. Plus, as Lukas points out, even if climate change does increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme floods that have historically occurred every decade or so, these events are so rare that, “It might be a century before we notice the impact of the trend, and in the meantime we will have already suffered all these other significant losses due to climate change.” In other words, says Lukas, “I don’t think we have to look at flooding events across Colorado to make a stronger case for carbon mitigation. That case can stand on its own.” —Joel Warner
Flood Futures: More Extreme? Repairs to the Boulder Creek channel near 17th Street also restored whitewater structures.
When Boating Gets Swamped
What do you do when the creek in front of your house becomes a monster river, pumping more than 40 times the amount of water that usually flows through its narrow channel? If you’re Scott Shipley of Lyons, Colorado, you rescue your wife and two young kids from the island created by the floodwaters. Then you start the long process to rebuild your town. Shipley, a whitewater park engineer, is a three-time world champion and Olympic kayaker; his wife is also an accomplished boater. The usually mellow St. Vrain Creek that courses behind their back yard is home to three of the best kayak playparks in the country. Those are now thickly buried under sand and cobble from the September 2013 flood. Gary Lacy of Recreation Engineering and Planning Inc. is the Boulder-based engineer who designed Lyons’ playpark—a process of engineering rapid runs to create surfable waves—and is now consulting for the town to restore damaged whitewater features. He says Lyons’ structures are intact but not functioning due to “enormous amounts” of deposition. Shipley, however, disagrees. He thinks only one feature remains, the October Hole, and that it, too, will need to be repaired. In either case, significant dredging will be required to restore a functioning playpark. Just to the south, Boulder Creek’s whitewater park near Eben G. Fine Park was also affected by the flooding, but not nearly to the same extent. Some drops were obliterated, other structures were modified—“in a good way,” says Lacy, a 30-year veteran of whitewater design responsible for 86 playparks nationwide, including Boulder’s—and the channel was packed with sediment. While both communities were anxious to see their creeks restored, Boulder had the ability to foot the bill and thus move more quickly while waiting for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds that may or may not come through. It also helped that dredging and repairs to drop structures on Boulder Creek, among other projects, were needed to serve multiple purposes, such as imminent flood control protection. Work on the Boulder Creek channel began in April 2014, and the playpark was restored to its pre-flood condition in early May. “Boulder Creek will look pretty darn good this summer,” Lacy says. “It’s going to be a great place to come boat.” Meanwhile, for the much smaller Lyons community, where whitewater is a key driver of the economy, work to bring its kayaking structures back online is still just a glimmer in Shipley’s eye. The town estimates flood damage at $50 million—an astronomical figure for a town with a budget of less than $1 million a year. Other infrastructure and public safety projects have taken priority. Shipley’s company, S2O Design, worked with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move the St. Vrain back to its pre-flood channel and to make sure the town wouldn’t get “shellacked,” as Shipley put it, by the spring runoff. But the town won’t tackle rebuilding its whitewater park until 2015. FEMA grants for channel repairs are limited to projects not specific to the playpark, such as streambank stabilization. The rest of the town’s flood recovery funds will come from city and state grants and private donations. Funding to rehab the whitewater park is still up in the air. The Lyons Outdoor Games, which draws world-class kayakers—along with spectators and their dollars—to Lyons, was still held as planned in late May 2014. The schedule was limited and the October Hole was the only structure stable enough for boating, but it was light at the end of a long winter tunnel for businesses that had suffered without tourism income since the previous summer. “For the play [boating] community, it’s very disappointing that Lyons’ rapids won’t be back this summer ,” says David Holzman, a local boater who will instead head to Golden’s playpark, where September 2013 flood flows amounted to nothing more than a good spring runoff. Still, he looks on the bright side: “I’ve been boating Boulder Creek and the St. Vrain for 15 years. I could close my eyes and run them, I know them so well. Now they’re like new rivers, with new challenges and new things to learn.” Shipley, too, concedes a plus to the flooding. “The sunny side of this whole thing is that we can re-envision our town and parks.” —Katy Neusteter Headwaters | Summer 2014
City of Longmont
Water is Recreation
Longmont will rebuild the St. Vrain Greenway, destroyed by the September 2013 flood, as a beloved recreational asset and continued flood buffer.
Rec Path Doubles as Flood Protection Pay a visit to the northern Front Range city of Longmont, and chances are you’ll find yourself somewhere along the city’s flagship recreational attraction—the 8-mile-long St. Vrain Greenway. Recent visitors to the greenway, which forms the spine of the city’s trail and park system, however, will note that virtually every stretch was affected during the September 2013 floods. “It took 30 years—a generation—to build,” says Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s director of public works and natural resources, “and Mother Nature took one day to destroy it.” The system was unique, designed and built with close collaboration between the city and property owners. Residents began a small section of the trail in the mid-80s, and by 1994, the city officially began master-planned improvements, with funding from the Colorado Lottery, grants and private donations. Despite the widespread damage it sustained, the greenway was a smart way to build on a floodplain. Damages were much less extensive, expensive and dangerous than they would have been if the area had been developed for commercial or residential use. Plus, greenways such as Longmont’s stabilize
streambanks, regulate streamflows and protect riparian ecosystems. Think of the recreational trail as a bonus prize. Restoring the greenway will be no small task. Longmont estimates it will take $80 million to repair the St. Vrain Creek channel and complete future flood mitigation projects. An additional $15 million will be needed to recover and rebuild the greenway. The money will come partly from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal and state sources—a $600,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado has already been approved for flood repairs to both the St. Vrain and adjoining Lefthand Greenway. The city council also instituted two monthly fee increases on utility bills to fund flood recovery projects and will ask voters to approve a $20 million bond issue in June 2014 to increase available funding. “The community approach won’t be simply to rebuild the greenway exactly as it was,” Rademacher says. “We want to learn from the flood and rebuild the channel to be able to carry a 100-year flood. The trail will be part of that project.” —Katy Neusteter
How Did the Fish Fare?
Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Just fine, says Ken Kehmeier, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. While September 2013 flood flows on river surfaces were hellish, the velocity of the water down at the riverbeds stayed steady. In fact, he says, fish counts within the flood zone are consistent with those before the floods. The flooding may have even been a good thing for rivers like the Cache la Poudre, where flows flushed sediment deposited from fire-scoured hillsides down the channel, restoring beneficial habitat for bugs and fish. The one exception: Where rivers have been mechanically scoured of debris or put back in their native channels in order to restore roads, for example, fish habitat has been wiped out and fish have all but disappeared. Likewise, flooding washed away new habitat, such as riverbed structures, vegetation and driftwood, installed in the last two years by Colorado Trout Unlimited in places like Eldorado State Park, says Larry Quilling, director at large. Still, fish are adaptable, and Kehmeier says anglers can expect a good—if not great—fishing season in 2014. —Katy Neusteter Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff sample South Platte River fish populations in the Centennial State Wildlife Area after the September 2013 flood. 10
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Water is Health
Health Hazard: Runaway Wastewater
City of Evans
Evans’ drinking water system was largely unscathed by September 2013’s floods, but its wastewater system failed and for days after the rain cleared, temporary plastic toilet stalls lined roads. Residents were prohibited from using their toilets or any indoor plumbing. “They had portable bathrooms on the street to prevent raw sewage from going to the [South Platte] river,” says Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). That was only the beginning of the trouble, though. Wastewater treatment systems located along raging streams failed as their control rooms filled with water and their electric systems shorted out. Hundreds of individual septic systems were also washed away. The end result: Millions of gallons of raw sewage surged across yards, city parks and farmland out onto the Eastern Plains. In all, 20 wastewater systems sustained damage, according to the CDPHE. “All but a few were able to be operating the next day,” says David Kurz, CDPHE’s lead wastewater engineer. And despite being inundated and in some cases cut off from roads, many wastewater plants were able to operate at least partially because their staffers stayed on site around the clock as the crisis unfolded. Still, the rank water became a major public health threat and the state issued multiple advisories urging people to stay away from the floodwaters. Despite state officials’ deep concerns about the threat to public health, no illnesses due to contamination were reported, according to Mark Salley, CDPHE spokesman. As communities move forward with repairs, the numbers are daunting, but federal and state assistance is helping water providers and districts pay to improve and repair infrastructure. Evans alone expects its wastewater treatment plant to need about $7 million in repairs. Its annual budget for such work is closer to $1 million. Even with the necessary funds, managers face the rebuilding challenge of mitigating future flood risk. Because wastewater treatment plants must discharge their treated effluent into waterways, they are usually located in floodplains. Still, innovative safeguards could reduce the likelihood of future flood-inflicted outages or the extent of damages. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early April 2014 published a report outlining disaster-resilient design considerations for the town of Jamestown’s drinking water system, for instance, as well as recommendations for improvements to wastewater treatment approaches there, such as pooling wastewater from low-lying individual septic systems to a publicly operated system sited above the floodplain. “A lot of folks don’t think about their sewage treatment plant,” says Falco. “But when it goes offline, it’s a problem.” —Jerd Smith
Volunteers from oil and gas companies built approximately half of the 212 portable toilets erected in Evans immediately following the September 2013 flood. State officials issued 45 boil-water advisories statewide in 2013, 12 in September alone, compared with 24 in 2012, 39 in 2011 and 22 in 2010. Water must be brought to a boil for two to three minutes to kill bacteria and other pathogens that may have entered the water supply. Source: CDPHE Headwaters | Summer 2014
Safeguarding Drinking Water
As flooding gripped the Front Range in September 2013, water managers watched in dismay as the systems that delivered millions of gallons of clean water buckled and crumbled and failed. By the night of September 12, water intake structures on creeks were clogged with trees, sand, wrecked buildings and, in some cases, cars and trucks. Delivery pipes were broken and scattered downstream and treatment facilities were completely inundated. Lyons and Jamestown were especially hard hit, along with dozens of smaller communities served by stand-alone water and sanitation districts. Thousands of people went without water service for days due to the damage, while others had access to water that wasn’t safe to drink. In all, the state would issue 12 boil advisories affecting 45,000 people, according to Nicole Graziano, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) compliance assurance manager for northern Colorado. Immediately after the rains passed, most communities were able to place temporary lines that allowed them to begin delivering clean water to residents fairly quickly. Now, state water officials say water and wastewater utilities needing to repair or replace systems are taking steps to mitigate the risk from future flooding. Some 60 water systems have sought help from the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency in repairing their facilities. To gain approval from the CDPHE, these utilities must design their systems either out of the floodplain, or build them to ensure they can withstand major flood events. Either way, it’s a complicated design undertaking, says CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley. Many water systems lie directly in floodplains because they were constructed close to their supply source—streams. “It is important to understand,” says Salley, “that much of the water and wastewater infrastructure damaged last year includes drinking water distribution pipes and wastewater collection sewers spread throughout cities and towns that must cross the floodplain of multiple waterways.” To help towns rebuild—and in some cases improve—their systems, state lawmakers passed a bill at the end of the 2014 legislative session creating a water infrastructure Natural Disaster Grant Fund. The fund was seeded with $17 million to be doled out by CDPHE to local governments through mid-2015 for design, renovation and reconstruction of drinking water and wastewater treatment systems impacted by the September 2013 floods. Those funds will help entities take steps to overcome another key challenge in building flood-resilient systems that was noted by director of the CDPHE Water Quality Control Division, Steve Gunderson: “You have to balance cost with risk.” —Jerd Smith
THE SEPTEMBER 2013 FLOOD’S DESTRUCTIVE PATH
Soldiers assisting local agencies with evacuations load residents into a high-clearance vehicle in Boulder County on Sept. 12, 2013. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph K. VonNida, Colorado National Guard
September 2013’s flood was the most recent, but don’t expect it to be the last.
By Caitlin Coleman
or northern Colorado, September 2013 was hell. At the time, the National Weather Service called the flooding “biblical.” For those impacted, it might as well have been. Farmers watched herds of mice scurry across wet fields to reach higher ground and avoid inundation—the first plague. People, too, struggled to survive and protect family, animals and property. Those assisting with emergency response and rescue efforts lived on adrenaline, Snickers bars and without sleep for days. It felt like the rains would never stop. Ten lives were lost. Hell. Although total economic losses and flood-related damages won’t be known with certainty for years, state officials are estimating the tally at around $3.4 billion. In the end, that number will include damage to agricultural land and production, tourism losses, as well as impacts to homes, businesses, roads and more. Repairs and rebuilding continue, but less than a year out it’s too soon to say what Colorado will remember and learn from the event and what will become lore.
The storm began forming along Colorado’s Western Slope on September 7. The
previous week was record-breakingly hot and dry, says Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s State Climatologist. Tropical moisture heading north from the Pacific coast of Mexico had swept across the desert Southwest, targeting western Colorado. Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, recalls emailing Doesken after checking the precipitation forecast, hopeful for a few inches of rain—drought relief. At the time, Doesken told him not to get too excited, these storms rarely pan out. By September 9, that moisture moved to the Front Range. As rain showers began to fall, another mass of soggy, humid air was sweeping up from the Texas Gulf coast pumping water in like a pipeline, says Mike Chard, director of the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The dew point was 67 degrees, and “everything was just right for this to turn into a bad day,” Chard recalls. Even as that Gulf air was driven up against the foothills to meet the Pacific-sourced moisture, a stalled low-pressure front was circulating, making it difficult for forecasters to predict the enormity of the storm and where the rain would fall. In the end, that circulating front kept the moisture pointed at Colorado’s East Slope for the better part of a week.
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Soldiers, airmen and members of civilian emergency response agencies unload sandbags to stymie floodwaters in Arvada on Sept. 15, 2013. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares, Colorado National Guard
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja (left) hoists evacuee Mike Daniels into a Blackhawk medevac helicopter during rescue operations in Boulder on Sept. 16, 2013. Photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault, U.S. Army
Disaster response volunteers with Hands.org and AmeriCorps muck out homes in Evans on Sept. 25, 2013. Photo by Michael Rieger, FEMA
Floodwaters from St. Vrain Creek swamped Longmont in September 2013. Photo by Terry Plummer Headwaters | Summer 2014
THE SEPTEMBER 2013 FLOOD’S DESTRUCTIVE PATH
An aerial view shows flood damage in Colorado on Sept. 14, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Wallace Bonner
Trailer homes were no match for the raging South St. Vrain Creek in Lyons. Photo by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Floodwaters submerge fields and a road on the outskirts of Longmont. Photo by Terry Plummer
By the afternoon of Wednesday the 11th, heavy rains started. “This was the beginning of the main show,” Doesken says. Emergency managers activated and all eyes were on the weather. As rain began falling, people first reacted with excitement. College students were tubing in Boulder Creek and playing in the water, but by 8:30 that night the mood had shifted, says Amy Danzl with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. Danzl was monitoring social media and felt the darkness of the event when tweets and Facebook messages became fearful. “Just got home after driving through waters in Boulder that completely blew up over my windshield and thunder crashing,” Boulder resident Morgan Heim posted on Facebook around 10 p.m. “Now the flash flood sirens are going off all over the city, and it is not a test. Sounds like the end of the world, and I’m grateful to have gotten home.”
By the time the rushing St. Vrain, Poudre and Big Thompson rivers hit the South Platte out in the plains, they formed a towering flood wave that surged around Greeley. Floodwaters, in an area that itself received only a few inches of rainfall during the storm, breached river banks and flowed more than a mile wide in places, causing severe flooding in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Weld counties. Three rivers overtopped Interstate 25 and all major roads across the northern Front Range closed. On the 14th, local thunderstorms again hit west Aurora and Denver and again sent floodwaters rolling down Sand Creek to Metro Wastewater. Then came an all-day rain over the entire region on the 15th. Finally, on a soggy Monday, September 16, the rain subsided and full rescue efforts, assessments and repairs could begin.
The rains continued all week, shifting intensity and focus from as far south as El Paso County in the Arkansas River Basin and casting a wide berth northward along the Front Range. Rains poured down heaviest from 5 p.m. on the 11th until 1 a.m. the morning of the 13th, creating flood surges targeting Larimer, Boulder and Jefferson counties. On the 12th, the heaviest rains focused on Aurora, northeast Denver and parts of Weld County, causing flooding in Sand Creek and a crisis for Denver’s Metro Wastewater plant. The 12th also saw, at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs, more rain falling in a 24-hour period than ever before recorded by a Colorado rain gauge. Those southern rains were at their wildest slightly east, around Fountain Creek. That same day, the rains shifted west, striking the upper watersheds of the Big Thompson River and St. Vrain Creek, even pouring west of Evergreen. This western hit set the stage for tumultuous flooding that developed that night on the Big Thompson. As floodwaters rose, in many cases there was no place for people to go, no roads on which to evacuate, and yet the rain was still falling. Emergency managers struggled to keep people safe, making plans so rescue helicopters could fly as soon as the storm lifted. Misinformation was proliferating. In Lyons, someone made a loudspeaker announcement that Buttonrock Dam was failing—if Buttonrock failed, Lyons wouldn’t survive. Officials and emergency managers received numerous dam failure reports and with each report had to reconfirm the dam was safely intact. As water came pouring over dam spillways, as with Buttonrock, many citizens may not have realized the dams were functioning according to design in response to rising water levels. Other faulty information spread through social media networks. Rogue personalities posted dangerously false information like directing people to evacuate in the wrong direction. For days public information officers answered phones, maintained a social media presence, and quelled the major sources of misinformation. By Friday, September 13, the rains slowed enough for rescue helicopters to fly. At the same time, floodwaters were consolidating. Due to the storm’s large footprint, entire watersheds were flooding. Water pounded down creeks, channels and tributaries, and roaring streams converged to tear through canyons and pour from their mouths. Stream channels were reshaped and rerouted, with flood magnitudes varying by location. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, many high country creeks exceeded the 100-year flood level; some exceeded it by as much as five times.
After the flood, news media went wild—people wanted information. “I probably had more media touches in two weeks during the floods than I did in my almost 25-year career here,” says Steve Gunderson, director of the Water Quality Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Flooded oil and gas wells and tipped tanks leaking crude oil quickly became the focus of a concerned national audience. But with the release of water quality analyses, the story died quickly. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimates losing 43,000 gallons of crude oil to surface water, a large number diminished by the comparative volume of wastewater that was rushing down the South Platte. CDPHE estimates releases of 20 million gallons of raw sewage and as much as 270 million gallons of partially treated sewage, Gunderson says. When water quality was tested after the floods, samples revealed highly elevated levels of E. Coli, stemming from wastewater, while volatile organic compounds related to oil and gas production were below human health standards. A month later, E. Coli levels had returned to normal. In the course of the storm, rainfall totals were high, peaking at 18 inches around Boulder and 15 inches in Aurora, with pockets of concentrated rainfall reaching 14 to 16 inches in the mountains south of Estes Park, west of Lyons, and northwest of Loveland. Compare that to an average annual precipitation of 12 to 16 inches at lower elevations and 16 to 23 inches along the Peak to Peak Highway, plus average September precipitation east of the Continental Divide of less than 2 inches. “The problem was, we got the better part of a year’s worth of precipitation in a week, with the bulk of that in a day and a half,” Doesken says. There were other problematic factors that exacerbated the flooding and the damage. Settlement patterns in Front Range canyons have evolved and more people are living in these areas than ever before. Small access trails have become larger paved roads, roads that in some cases constitute half the floodplain’s width and restrict a river’s natural movement. Roads and bridges racked up an estimated $535 million in damages during the flood, but the pavement also helped channel water to rip directly down canyons. The risk of living so closely to wild areas has also manifested in the many wildfires that have ravaged Colorado, burning all the more brightly due to years of suppression to protect homes. The burn scars from those wildfires in turn intensify the rush of water and debris into rivers during rain events.
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SEPTEMBER 2013 FLOOD DAMAGE
18,000 People displaced Homes damaged 17,934 Irrigation ditches damaged
Still, September’s flood could have been worse. Mitiga-
Number of those ditches that won’t be operational in time for 2014 irrigation season (Source: Governor’s recovery statistics)
Resulting loss of irrigated acreage for 2014 (Source: Governor’s recovery statistics)
Dams inspected for flood damage
(Source: Governor’s recovery statistics) Dams that raised concerns (Source: Governor’s recovery statistics)
tion work completed after previous floods dampened the effects of this most recent deluge. In 1965 the South Platte River was hit with what was previously the most economically destructive flood in Colorado’s history, a $3 billion disaster. Many say it’s the most comparable to the September 2013 flood: a June storm that swept south of Denver with 10-plus inches of rain, which fell in just over three hours destroying roads, bridges, homes and other structures in the South Platte’s floodplain. This was the flood that led to construction of Chatfield Reservoir as a flood-control mechanism. It also prompted creation of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, a regional organization that reaches seven counties around the metro area. Upon establishment by state legislation, the organization immediately took an inventory of drainages in its district, finding 74 percent undeveloped and amenable to flood prevention approaches. Five years later, the district established floodplain management programs to keep those floodplains undeveloped, offering financial incentives to encourage local governments to maintain healthy river channels, establish greenways and stabilize streambanks. They also worked with cities on smart development and master planning. Bill DeGroot, recently retired manager of the district’s floodplain management program, says that in his 40 years there, he never issued a floodplain development permit. Such floodplain protection efforts paid off in September 2013. A project in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood along Westerly Creek was built through Urban Drainage’s maintenance eligibility program, and although a pedestrian bridge over the creek was underwater during the September 2013 flood, there was no damage to surrounding property. The same was true in western Aurora, which received as much rainfall as Boulder but saw little severe damage. “A lot of the activities that the cities did in conjunction with the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, it was almost like nothing happened there,” Houck says. “There were some roads that buckled, but really it was kind of a non-story in the Denver area.” Then again, these areas were further from the mountains and mouths of canyons, where flood energy was more concentrated. Other floodplain work has been completed around the state with coordination of cities, parks and open space departments, and nonprofits. The 2013 flood put two City of Longmont flood mitigation projects to the test, both of which were completed within the past four years. Work along Left Hand Creek benefitted many homes previously located in the floodplain, and another project along a gulch successfully diverted floodwaters to large holding ponds. Denver’s Greenway Foundation, which also got its start in 1974, opened up the floodplains along the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, creating riparian buffers and recreation areas between the river and uphill development. Similarly, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District has been working on restoration projects to improve flood control throughout Fountain Creek’s watershed since 2009. “You can go to cities around the state and see some places that are doing this,” Houck says. “I’m hoping that will limit the actual flooding events that we experience.”
EXTREME RAIN EVENT—By Sept. 20, 2013, the month-to-date percent of average precipitation that had fallen where the storm was concentrated (east of the Continental Divide and along the northern Front Range) reached more than 600 percent of normal for September. Source: Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service
(Source: FEMA, reporting in March 2014)
21 $11,000,000 Dams still being repaired as of June 2014 (Source: Governor’s recovery statistics)
in public assistance requests for water infrastructure to FEMA
59 $170,000,000 Drinking and wastewater treatment systems requesting assistance from CDPHE
in damages to those systems reported (Source: CDPHE)
$535,000,000 in damages to roads and bridges (Source: CDOT)
Headwaters | Summer 2014
THE SEPTEMBER 2013 FLOOD’S DESTRUCTIVE PATH
A partially ruined cornfield is revealed as floodwaters recede in Weld County.
The South Platte River flooded U.S. Highway 34 east of Greeley. Photos by Mark Goldstein (3)
The Big Thompson Flood of 1976 was the deadliest flash flood in Colorado. On the night of July 31, the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water, and it came on fast. In the end, there were 144 victims. That deadly flood was high and quick compared to the September 2013 flooding where flows were more sustained and peaked around 15,500 cfs on the Big Thompson at the end of the canyon. As a result of the Big Thompson Flood, Colorado posted “climb to safety” signs in canyons and raised public awareness about the risk of flash flooding. “This [September 2013 flood] is the No. 1 flood in our history from a dollar-loss amount and it doesn’t even rank in the top six for deaths,” Chard says. Ten tragically died in September, but most are relieved that more lives weren’t lost. “We had every way and every reason to have 10 times more than those deaths, statewide,” Chard says. He attributes the reduction to early warning and other steps taken to mitigate risk. Still, emergency managers continue working to improve their systems so they’ll be better prepared to respond quickly when the next emergency strikes. Although Colorado has grown more resilient and prepared with each disaster, it’s hard to say what the state will learn from September 2013. “Events kind of tend to fade into memory and people will always talk
The flood ripped apart thousands of private residences and left them filled with mud and debris. Photo by Tom Browning
White & Jankowski
Flooded oil and gas operations spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil in Weld County.
about it, but the event develops this mythical status as if, ‘Oh, it was the big one,’” says Houck. He cites the Big Thompson Flood as the last “big one,” yet here we are with another big one less than 40 years later. According to Doesken, floods happen in Colorado nearly every year, big floods happen about every three to five years, and really big floods happen roughly every decade. But people tend to think a disaster won’t hit them, and if it does, they expect there won’t be another, Houck says. Society may monumentalize this flood, or forget the likelihood of recurrence, but emergency managers can’t afford to be negligent. Each disaster shapes the landscape and brings with it new risk in the future. While reviewing lessons learned with his team of responders, Chard told them to stay on their toes: “Folks, we’re facing flood season. I’ve got a [wildfire] burn scar—that risk still hasn’t changed—and we’ve got wildfire season right around the corner. I’m just getting your heads wrapped around the reality…you’d better have another one in you, because we’re going to be needing you.” q Contribute financially to ongoing flood recovery efforts at helpcoloradonow.org or find a way to volunteer your time via Colorado Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster: covoad.communityos.org.
Many roadways were overwhelmed by surging rivers laden with debris. Photo by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
An aerial view shows damage to a road in Colorado due to flooding on Sept. 16, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault
EMPHASIZING WATER RIGHTS, WATER QUALITY, AND NATURAL RESOURCES 511 Sixteenth Street, Suite 500 Denver, Colorado 80202 303-595-9441 www.white-jankowski.com
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
RACE TO N RECOVERY
By Joshua Zaffos
The close proximity of houses and the highway to the river not only left them vulnerable to damages, but also compromised the natural function of the North St. Vrain’s floodplain. Although the consequences to homeowners’ properties—“They took a huge, huge hit,” says consultant Jeff Crane, working on behalf of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)—are still visible in spring, an “unprecedented” recovery is in motion, Crane says. In the aftermath of the epic flood, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Central Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration, and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) are partnering to avoid similar outcomes in the future, tapping cooperation between highway engineers, river restoration scientists and local landowners. Where Apple Valley Road connects with the highway, CDOT is blasting away bedrock and widening the highway shoulder—by as much as 60 feet in some places. In those stretches, crews are using cobble and rock to create stairstep vegetated benches between the river and the road to accommodate varying flow levels. They’re placing rocks and tree root wads along banks to build contours that enable the creek to meander and diffuse energy. These natural features, which utilize the blasted bedrock as well as dirt and logs uprooted during the flood, will stabilize the riverbanks and protect the road from the next major flood, while also creating habitat for fish and other aquatic species. “The river affects the road, and the road affects the river,” says CDOT engineer Abra Geissler of her agency’s somewhat unusual interest in and support for river restoration. “Stream stabilization doesn’t just stop at the [highway] right-ofway, so we have involved landowners and taken a kind of holistic approach.” With last fall’s floods, opportunity has followed tragedy. Recovery efforts have meant a chance to upgrade and restore both river systems and infrastructure, which haven’t always functioned in harmony. Initiatives to protect property and lives in the short term are feeding into long-term plans to reduce flood risks In April 2014, Jeff Crane directs a crew working near Apple Valley Drive west of Lyons to realign a section of North St. Vrain Creek in advance of spring runoff. Headwaters | Summer 2014
Meeting Today’s Needs With an Eye on Tomorrow
orth St. Vrain Creek flows placidly along Apple Valley Road on a blue-sky April day amid the commotion of large trucks and track hoes working to reshape its banks. Seven months earlier, in September 2013, driving rains flooded the creek to nearly 10 times its typical volume and caused it to rise more than 5 feet in barely 24 hours, chewing up sections of U.S. Highway 36, the adjacent roadway between Lyons and Estes Park. In Apple Valley, a small side canyon off the highway, the swollen river uprooted and inundated houses and buried cars as it carved a brand new channel.
Kevin Moloney Terry Plummer shows off Left Hand Ditch Company’s newly reconstructed dual diversion structure for its Table Mountain and Bader ditches west of Niwot in early April 2014. The ditches are part of Left Hand’s system to deliver water to approximately 15,000 acres of farmland.
while also restoring the natural patterns and functions of rivers. The vision is a herculean one, requiring the coordination and cooperation of scores of federal, state and local government agencies, businesses and conservation groups, and thousands of landowners—all with slightly different interests but a common goal of improving flood resiliency. The project unfolding along Highway 36 is a prominent, initial example of what that cooperation might look like and the results it could produce. Even as the desire is there to improve the resiliency and function of pre-flood structures and stream channels, managers and officials racing to restore crucial water supply infrastructure or mitigate flood hazards prior to the 2014 spring runoff in many cases discovered their options were limited, not only by the time crunch, but by funding and permitting stipulations. So they’ve hustled to ensure the safety of and water delivery to many thousands of people and acres of farmland, in some cases installing temporary measures that can be replaced or retrofitted down the road.
On the night of September 12, 2013, Terry Plummer found himself racing along Left Hand Creek as the rains came down and the floodwaters came up. The vice president of maintenance and operations of the Left Hand Ditch Company, headquartered in Niwot, directed 18
crews to build berms to keep the river from breaching its banks and to divert water that threatened homes and water delivery and supply structures. As the rain kept falling, Plummer and colleague Joel Schaap hurried to see how the South St. Vrain diversion was holding up when the debris-swollen river spilled onto the road in front of them, halting their frantic efforts. The flood surge stranded Plummer and Schaap on a road for six hours and left behind a path of catastrophic damage. Plummer endured the unnerving flood peak, but his frenzied efforts had just begun. During the following week, he scrambled nonstop to line up construction crews and contractors to mitigate hazards, to bring water supply operations back online, and to survey the damages. “We went straight to work,” he says. That’s been the story for water and flood managers across northern Colorado, who after more than nine months have yet to stop working. On-the-ground response began before the September 2013 floodwaters had even subsided. Local ditch companies and water districts supported shareholders and neighbors during the flood, building berms to protect properties as rivers sprawled into plains of mud and debris hundreds of feet wide. County, state and federal emergency managers, and National Guard troops focused on saving lives and delivering aid to victims. As immediate threats diminished, officials shifted to assistance and recovery phases, analyzing
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damages and lingering risks and coordinating relief and repairs. After an official disaster declaration by President Obama on September 14, federal managers began following the National Disaster Recovery Framework, developed in 2011 to provide a flexible and collaborative approach to recovery. Under the framework, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies deployed staff and resources through the Joint Field Office in Centennial to complete an “advance assessment,” evaluating recovery challenges and assistance needs in the affected counties. The first step was to identify “exigent,” or emergency, projects requiring immediate attention and then to provide technical support, such as mapping and imaging of channels, to inform recovery efforts and mitigate future flood risks. The list of immediate hazards included unstable banks, sediment deposition in channels, and avulsion—where streams jump their banks to form new channels—which posed short-term threats to properties along transformed rivers and long-term concerns for delivering water for towns and farmers. To address the exigent problems, managers safeguarded houses, roadways, bridges and other structures next to undercut riverbanks, placing riprap—large boulders, sometimes locked in place with concrete—to stabilize loose or steep sloping banks. The tally of such
imminently threatened cases was at least 175. Many private property projects qualified for $14.8 million in funds through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While FEMA and the Army Corps provided technical support for stream restoration efforts on private property, irrigators and water managers raced to make emergency repairs ahead of spring runoff, which kicks off irrigation season across Colorado. Not only did managers need to ensure irrigators could receive their shares of water, but they also had to plan for streams’ annual pulse of snowmelt—bolstered this year by a bountiful snowpack. That runoff would carry additional high-country debris as well as remaining dirt from the flood that could undo initial repairs and further undermine unstable banks. Some emergency structural repairs started up immediately while others had to wait out winter weather for access. In the short term, Plummer’s crews and homeowner repairs stabilized banks and removed tons of sand, gravel and woody debris from stream channels in an effort to make room for the spring’s forecasted heavy flows. The runoff would test the effectiveness of such measures. Since the September 2013 flood, Plummer has directed repairs on 10 major diversion projects and numerous stretches of the river. The Table Mountain and Bader diversions along Left Hand Creek were among those thrashed by the floods. Downed trees, boulders and floodwaters bent back the ditches’ two metal headgates at 90-degree angles as if they were made of paper. Concrete diversion walls snapped like twigs. Sand and debris stacked 6 feet deep in places, making it impossible to tell where the stream channel and ditches once flowed. Contractors initially waited for the ground to dry out, so they could bring backhoes onto the site to move earth and reestablish the channel after the creek carved a new expansive and terraced floodplain. By early spring, as Plummer oversaw progress on a warm March day, crews had combined the diversions to use a new, single headgate—a cost efficiency—and filled in eroded ground beneath the structure with concrete. To protect the diversion from runoff pulses and future floods, they grouted riprap into the banks to lock the river’s course in place. Plummer immediately exhausted emergency funds in the aftermath of the storms, so ditch shareholders agreed to a 40 percent rate hike to cover initial repair costs. The CWCB also jumped in with $40 million in emergency loans for ditch companies and irrigators, offering zero-percent interest for three years. Public assistance dollars through FEMA emerged later to cover up to 75 percent of costs for diversions and structures, which Left Hand and other ditches can use to repay the state loans. Wade Gonzales, superintendent for the Highland Ditch Company, calls the CWCB loans “a blessing,” which allowed his company to dive into repairs after its main intake diversion on the St. Vrain was “100 percent” destroyed. The Highland Ditch, which runs all the way to Milliken, primarily serves irrigators—and 40,000 acres of farmland—but also
provides water to the City of Longmont. CWCB grants for recovery projects totaling $2.55 million, dispersed in amounts of $20,000 and $25,000 through the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, have also helped pay to repair or replace damaged water supply infrastructure. Plummer proudly notes the Left Hand Ditch Company will come in under budget with emergency fixes, and he credits the Army Corps for moving quickly to review permits in order to expedite repairs. Plummer and others expect tons of sand and debris to continually wash down from the high country in coming years, requiring almost monthly excavations to keep diversions clear and ensure the river stays within its banks. Still, the progress is proof of the success and immense organization surrounding short-term recovery, from planning to funding to implementation. But the scramble to address imminent hazards ahead of runoff may not even have been the toughest task for managers, especially when weighed against the titanic efforts underway to coordinate long-term recovery spanning entire watersheds. Says Sean Cronin, executive director of the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which works with dozens of ditch companies, “Who would’ve thought this would be the easy part?”
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Master Planning for Resiliency
A testament to the size and pace of flood recovery, Jeff Crane has racked up 700 miles a week on his truck since last November. The Carbondale-based river hydrologist began serving as CWCB’s contract field project coordinator weeks after the storm, teaming up with and advising recovery initiatives from Coal Creek to the Big Thompson River to Fountain Creek. Beyond its loans and grants for immediate repairs, the CWCB is backing long-term, big-picture planning and stream rehabilitation. The Colorado Watershed Restoration Program supports the creation of watershed master plans to guide community- and basin-wide projects to rehabilitate rivers’ environmental functions and reduce flood risks. While each master plan is customized for a particular river basin, all are prompted by people’s desire to protect or restore a river system, says the CWCB’s Chris Sturm, who coordinates the restoration program. In the aftermath of the September 2013 floods, the CWCB approved a special round of grants to communities and coalitions in the 18 counties affected by the floods. Under the guidelines of the special release, a watershed master plan covers collaborative projects that tackle a wide range of basin functions: channel stabilization or reconfiguration, flood control and floodplain preservation, habitat enhancement and wetlands restoration, road and bridge protection, and establishment of recreational features. Consider the program, which provides money for master planning while requiring matching funds and in-kind contributions up to 50 percent, a nudge and incentive toward comprehensive river planning. “It’s carrots, not sticks,” says Sturm. “What we’re hoping to see is people approach this recovery effort looking at the Headwaters | Summer 2014
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Where the River Meets the Road Along stretches of North St. Vrain Creek and the Little Thompson River, the cooperative U.S. Highway 36 project is shifting the road away from the streams into blasted canyon walls and bioengineering tiered river channels to accommodate varying flow levels—each with improved connection to the floodplain. The goal? A better road, healthier streams and a more resilient system. 36ʼ
100-YEAR FLOW BANKFULL FLOW (Average runoff) BASE FLOW EXISTING CHANNEL BOTTOM
Root wad bank stabilization
channel as a system.” By involving private landowners in discussions with government officials, water managers, scientists and others, master plans— and the coalitions behind them—serve as a forum to set recovery priorities that not only stabilize banks or reestablish stream courses on a single property, but also improve overall resiliency in the event of future floods along entire river corridors. The planning also emphasizes approaching recovery in a way that enables natural river functions during both high and low flows. Across the Front Range, eight basin-wide coalitions, representing nearly every river system severely impacted by the floods, have successfully submitted state grant applications for master planning. Hastening a process that typically spans one to two years, these floodaffected communities are pushing to complete their plans in six to eight months. The groups are developing maps that identify sections of floodplain to re-connect to streams and bringing in contractors to carry out projects based on the input of participants and the expertise of consultants and government scientists. Cruising around Estes Park on a weekday afternoon in early March, Crane checked on the progress of several bank stabilization projects. Along a straightened section of Fall River, several landowners had cemented the
Roadbed Geotextile barrier Non-grouted riprap filter
Grouted riprap: Keyed into bedrock and filled with soil to promote plant growth
riverbanks with riprap to protect their properties from unstable banks. This conventional approach for armoring a streambank is effective at preventing erosion and channel movement that can undermine structures, but it also leads to increased stream velocities that cause a river to incise, or cut down deeper into the channel, where it becomes disconnected from the floodplain. Instead, Crane often advocates for practices known as natural channel design and “bioengineering,” river restoration techniques that use tree root wads and trunks and strategic arrangements of rocks and boulders to mimic natural forms and features. Such designs also engineer bends and meanders back into straightened rivers in order to diffuse energy from flood flows and minimize risks, while creating pools and spills ideal for trout habitat and kayak runs. The Highway 36 recovery project—with 17 sites along an 11-mile stretch of stream-adjacent roadway—showcases that approach. The restoration coalitions are building toward similar collaborative projects that blend practical and natural elements—changing some people’s views in the process. “The master plan is a means to a greater end,” says John Giordanengo, who until recently worked for the nonprofit Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, which sponsors the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition. “It’s
Rock fall safety ditch
BEDROCK Riprap: Rock or other material used to armor a streambank or streambed from scour and erosion
not just a great opportunity for restoration, but also for education.” The speed with which northern Colorado’s flood recovery coalitions have come together to act is nothing short of incredible. The Big Thompson Restoration Coalition formed just weeks after the flood and has brought together 325 stakeholders including landowners, local businesses, local and county governments, and conservation groups. Committees focus on fiscal, technical, and governmental and interagency affairs, as well as education and outreach. Giordanengo, who helped organize and facilitate a similar coalition following the 2012 High Park Fire, says coordinating all the moving parts and varying priorities isn’t easy, but coalition building is about finding compromise solutions that recognize everyone’s distinct self-interests. It’s an ideal model for planning and setting priorities along a river, he says, since what happens either upstream or downstream affects everyone else. Along the severely damaged Little Thompson River, which runs from above Pinewood Springs to Milliken, a coalition of 380 landowners and other supporters are involved with master planning. Committees meet weekly and monthly, depending on the tasks and workload, and “neighborhood captains” keep nearby landowners in the loop on discussions, plans, and grant and volunteer opportunities.
With passage of House Bill 141005, water right holders can now relocate diversions without going through water court, as would otherwise be required, if the original diversion point no longer works due to post-flood stream changes—as long as other water rights holders will not be adversely affected. 20
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Banks constructed to facilitate debris and sediment capture in order to promote plant growth
Work to rebuild damaged sections of U.S. Highway 36 northwest of Lyons progresses in tandem with improvements to the adjacent North St. Vrain Creek.
“Our goal is flood resiliency,” says Gordon Gilstrap of the Big Thompson Conservation District who is facilitating the Little Thompson Watershed Restoration Coalition and whose organization is the coalition’s financial sponsor. “We want to get the river to the point where if there’s another event, it’s not as damaging as this time.”
An Evolving Approach
While the scale of the recovery effort is daunting, the ceaseless efforts of dedicated staff and volunteers are paying off. In the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, 44 of the 94 ditches and reservoirs sustained damage during the September 2013 flood. For all but four of those diversions and structures, ditch
companies have either succeeded in rebuilding ahead of runoff, or are expected to be online at some point during the 2014 irrigation season. In several cases, repairs have incorporated new natural design elements during rebuilding. At the shared diversion for the Rough and Ready Ditch and Palmerton Ditch downstream of Lyons, repairs replaced a concrete
Footing the Bills for Colorado’s Flood Recovery
Source: Governor’s Recovery Office, June 2014
FEMA Public Assistance
Covers 75 percent of cost of eligible state and local projects for emergency measures, debris cleanup, and repair of roads, bridges and other infrastructure
FEMA Individual Assistance
Provides individuals and families with rental assistance, basic home repair assistance and other critical emergency assistance
National Flood Insurance Program
Payments on flood insurance claims
U.S. Small Business Administration
Loans for homeowners and small businesses
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grants
Given to state to be administered by Colorado Department of Local Affairs; must be expended within 2 years, with 80 percent directed to most affected counties (Boulder, Weld, Larimer)
Two installments: $62.8 million $199 million
Federal Highways Administration Emergency Relief Program
Administered by Colorado Department of Transportation to perform emergency and permanent repairs on federal aid roads and highways
U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection Program
Covers up to 75 percent of project costs for emergency measures such as debris removal or streambank stabilization on public or private land
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program
Covers rehabilitation of farm and ranch land, debris removal and repair of permanent fencing and water-related structures
Colorado Water Conservation Board
Emergency loans to ditch companies and irrigators to mitigate hazards and repair or replace damaged structures
Grants, disbursed by Northern Water, to repair or replace damaged water supply infrastructure
Grants for post-flood watershed master planning and restoration activities
Grants to help pay the costs of watershed cleanup and restoration in areas affected by the flood (SB14-179)
U.S. Department of Labor National Emergency Grant Funds to state for debris removal and cleanup, humanitarian assistance and subsidies for jobs recovering flood-damaged infrastructure
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Natural Disaster Grant Fund (HB14-1002)
Funding for planning, design, and construction of water and wastewater infrastructure
Rehabilitation of on-site wastewater treatment systems
Headwaters | Summer 2014
roller dam, which was great at preventing erosion but difficult for fish and dangerous for boaters to navigate, with a long-sloped dam that has a built-in fish ladder. “It will function much better than what was there before,” says Ken Huson, water resources administrator for the City of Longmont, which has a major stake in the system and other ditches in the region, “but it’s also a very good and stable construction that will be able to withstand what will be an interestingly dynamic streambed as it naturally recovers from the flood.” A similar sloped design was used on the new diversion for the Oligarchy Ditch, another significant supply for Longmont, while renovations on smaller ditches incorporated rock weirs, or low barriers, that still back up water to flow through headgates but provide easier passage. “We feel we need to work with the stream,” says Huson. In other cases, time and financial constraints as well as regulatory hurdles, whether real or perceived, led to diversion structures being rebuilt almost exactly as they stood in the past. For instance, many federal permits and FEMA funds were understood to be available or expedited only for projects replicating past works, meaning ditch companies preparing for runoff didn’t feel they had much choice. Proposals to rebuild around new channels have also competed with some landowners’ desires to see streams set back in their former paths. “There are certainly structures that are
being reconstructed the way they were 100 years ago,” says Sturm. “It’s a real challenge. You’re balancing this legitimate concern of protecting life and property with ecosystem function of the channel.” Yet many companies, agencies and local governments have gone above and beyond to help protect private property while considering how they can venture into enhancing river systems’ natural functions. “Companies are, by and large, interested in sitting down and having a conversation about how things could be built differently,” says the St. Vrain and Left Hand district’s Cronin. “But it’s not as easy as just saying we want to do it differently. What [ditch companies] found out is the time was going to be longer and the money wasn’t available.” That may mean some of this year’s fixes could get ripped out and renovated or else retrofitted with more natural elements sometime down the road—again, when funds become available. Meanwhile, irrigators and state officials are beginning to think about how they can work with federal agencies so when the next flood occurs, projects to build back for improved resiliency or with added benefit to streams won’t require ditch companies and landowners to wade through a more complicated—and possibly limiting— regulatory process than that for projects reverting to a pre-flood design. Douglas Mutter spent his career advising recovery programs following disasters, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. He and other proponents of master planning say there’s been “great success” in both rehabilitating river systems and educating water managers. Structures built for later enhancements, such as Left Hand’s Allen’s Lake diversion, which is being reconstructed to accommodate fish passage in the future, are a prime example that short-term action doesn’t have to preclude long-term planning. Mutter, who retired from the U.S. Department of the Interior last year only to be called in to advise Colorado’s recovery efforts, learned during the course of his career that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to recovery, and what works best for one river system and its communities may not serve others. He emphasizes another essential point, one that flood managers have repeated time and again since last fall: “There’s going to be more big floods.” “One of the lessons learned is we need to be ready for the next one,” adds Cronin. “We know more now in terms of the responsibility of managing water resources and what makes a healthy ecosystem. It’s a natural evolution.” q Connect with the official state resource for flood recovery information, updates and resources at Coloradounited.com.
Coming Home …A Calculation of Risk, Reward and Restitution in Flood Zones
By Rachel Walker
Rick and Bonnie DiSalvo’s Lyons home was still in disrepair in April 2014, more than six months after September 2013’s flood tore through, partially demolishing their home and that of nextdoor neighbors Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and Chris Todd.
he downtown Lyons bungalow that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and her partner Chris Todd purchased in 2011 was built 100 years ago. A modest home sited mere blocks from the picturesque south fork of St. Vrain Creek, its location provided everything that was important to the couple: walking access to
downtown Lyons, proximity to the schools for Bonnie-Sue’s teenage daughter, and a diverse community of artists, professionals, laborers and immigrants. The nearby creek offered cool relief in the dog days of summer. The riparian vegetation was home to songbirds, small furry creatures, foxes and coyotes. Living close to the water provided connection to the natural world, paramount to a family hailing from Alaska who feels more at home in the rugged wilderness than in suburbia.
Sure, they knew they were living in a floodplain. They’d researched and purchased flood insurance in order to qualify for a mortgage. But the fact that the home sat in the middle of a high-risk zone seemed to contradict the reality of their quotidian life. Theirs were sunny days, warm and arid. We know what happened next. For five days in September 2013, historic flooding swept through the Front Range. Some of the hardest-hit communities included Jamestown, Longmont, Glen Haven, Estes Park, Evans— and, of course, Lyons. As the South St. Vrain Creek carved a path through the front of Hitchcock’s house, the North St. Vrain tore through the neighborhoods behind. The two branches united and, as Hitchcock says, “went ballistic.” The mud filled her home waist deep. Doors were torn from doorjambs. Trees the width of three grown men uprooted from the swollen earth.
When the floods subsided, Hitchcock and Todd—like hundreds in their situation—emptied their house of mud. But despite their best efforts, mold sprouted, the house remained uninhabitable, and six months later they were forced to tear down the remains and begin building anew. Days before the demolition, Bonnie-Sue gazed at her home’s gutted interior: The walls and floor stripped of drywall and floorboards, all that remained was the lumber frame, exposed wires and a bedrock of deep, brown dirt. “I knew we were in a flood zone,” she says. “But I never thought it would flood like this. Of course it wouldn’t. We live in Colorado.”
National Flood Insurance Program
For millennia, communities have lived along rivers. This is where the soil is fertile and where transport comes easily. Riparian areas are sce-
nic and bucolic, and even in the modern technological age, where we get our food from the grocery store and rarely travel by waterway, communities tend to congregate nearby a river’s edge. Hitchcock and Todd have decided to rebuild their house in the exact location, in part because “it’s the best place to live,” says Todd. They're not naïve. Because they live in a designated 100-year floodplain, they understand there is a 1 percent chance of another flood sweeping through—each year. They accepted the cost of purchasing the required flood insurance when they bought the home, and they will rebuild in accordance with more stringent building codes in order to once again qualify for the insurance. Their home will be raised 4 feet, and its new foundation will be better designed to withstand a flood. Still, because of the risk they assume, they will pay a premium to continue living near the banks of the St. Vrain. In the late 1960s, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to safeguard against the inevitable damage caused by natural floods. The program, established by the National Flood Insurance Act in 1968, enables property owners living within designated floodplains to purchase federally backed insurance protection against flood losses. At the time, few private insurers were willing to cover flood damage, and the federal government, faced with escalating costs for disaster assistance, was looking for an alternative. Today, standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover flood damage. For most, purchasing the additional flood insurance is optional. However, for properties that sit within
In Colorado, 45 of the 245 communities in the National Flood Insurance Program participate in the Community Rating System, through which communities that meet requirements for improving flood protection programs receive 5 percent to 45 percent lower flood insurance premiums. Source: CWCB Headwaters | Summer 2014
For the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Kevin Houck, the pace hasn’t slowed in the nine months following September 2013’s flood in the scramble to help communities like Jamestown (above) update flood hydrology information, revise floodplain maps, enforce floodplain building codes and more.
a designated 100-year floodplain and have a mortgage backed by a federal agency, flood insurance is mandated. Nationwide, approximately 5.5 million properties today are insured through the NFIP. In Colorado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency responsible for administering the NFIP, reports a total of 23,255 active policies with annual premiums totaling just under $19 million. According to Michael Gease, FEMA natural hazards specialist, flood insurance premiums in high-risk areas average about $1,000 per year but have been known to cost 15 or more times that. Of course, insurance is all about hedging against risk. “Flood insurance is not that different from auto insurance,” says Ryan Pietramali, risk analysis branch chief at FEMA Region 8. “If you take higher risks and are more likely to incur claims, your rates are higher.” In other words, live in the floodplain, and be prepared to pay a premium. Live outside of it, and rates drop to “very affordable prices,” says Pietramali. Although individuals outside the 100-year floodplain who live in communities participating in the NFIP can also purchase flood insurance, few do despite the lower premiums, in part because they do not perceive themselves to be at risk. After all, a floodplain map shows where a flood will occur, right? Yes, and no.
Risk: A Line on a Map
The September 2013 floods underscored that existing floodplain maps, which are established by FEMA, aren’t always accurate in their identification of risk. “Our maps offer a really good depiction of a predictable flood risk, but there is uncertainty around that line,” says Pietramali. “That line” refers to the mapped boundary 24
Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger is leading the charge to rebuild her flood-destroyed community and bring residents home.
denoting the 100-year floodplain, or the high water mark for a flood that has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring any given year. FEMA labels it the high-risk Special Flood Hazard Area. “Nationally, about 25 percent of flood insurance claims come from areas outside our high-risk Special Flood Hazard Area,” says Gease. “And for the September 2013 floods, about half of all flood insurance claims came from low- to moderate-risk areas.”
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
A December 2013 analysis by the Denver Post showed that more than 17 percent of homes destroyed or damaged in four of the counties hardest hit by September’s flood— Weld, Larimer, Boulder and Logan—were not technically in the floodplain, according to the map. That same analysis found that some of the affected counties’ flood management plans were out of date. In some cases, floodplain maps had not been updated since 1979. In other cases, such as in Longmont, flood maps were accurate, but the magnitude and extent of the flooding was so great, on the order of a 500-year flood, that floodwaters reached well beyond the regulatory 100-year floodplain. In either case, the consequence is that many of the people affected by the floods did not have flood insurance. When their homes were damaged or destroyed by the floods, they relied on personal savings, emergency federal and state funding, and the help of nonprofit relief organizations to get back on their feet. Designating a floodplain, and identifying the risk of living and building within it, is a complicated task largely undertaken by FEMA. The highest-risk area is known as a floodway and cannot be built in. The next designation is the 100-year floodplain. The floods “gave huge insights into where we were close and where we missed the mark” with floodplain maps, says Kurt Bauer, engineering project manager with the City of Boulder’s Public Works Department. For instance, several of the drainages in Boulder County that breached and caused significant damage saw “drastically different inundation than what the maps predicted,” he says. Immediately after the flood, officials capitalized on the opportunity to capture data using LiDAR technology, a remote sensing laser tech-
Milliken’s New Map: Accounting for September 2013
CWCB and ICON Engineering, Inc.
Theo Stroomer (2)
nology that is used to create high-resolution maps. “With floodplain mapping, everything is theoretical,” explains Bauer. “But for the first 16 days after the flood, for 12 hours straight, we had a team documenting the flood extent and can now correlate that information with the current floodplain mapping.” This data will be used to update the floodplain maps that “we think were incorrect,” says Bauer. Although FEMA is typically the agency in charge of updating maps, local communities “can update their map at any time, using the process to show where the channel has migrated and to show new flood risk,” says Pietramali. Then the community submits the updated map for FEMA approval. Under national flood insurance reforms passed in 2012 and 2014, FEMA is also revamping its mapping program with the guidance of a Technical Mapping Advisory Council. The committee will review the new national flood-mapping program and ensure FEMA is utilizing “technically credible” data and mapping approaches. However, this is happening at a slow—some would say glacial—pace. In the aftermath of September 2013’s floods, local and state officials are scrambling to undertake their own floodplain mapping analyses, rather than waiting for FEMA, according to Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). “Communities are looking for accurate information and will need that to make plans and decisions,” says Houck. The significance of these efforts is great; a change in designation could preclude a homeowner from rebuilding their property or could add significant expense if a redrawn boundary lands a home in a newly identified floodplain or floodway. The boundaries impact not only flood insurance rates, but also building regulations. FEMA establishes minimum standards for building within the 100-year floodplain, and buildings must adhere to those standards to be eligible for the NFIP. However, “a community or state can always regulate to more restrictive standards than ours,” says Pietramali. Colorado, in fact, adopted stricter floodplain management standards statewide in 2011, and the state is committed to ensuring that communities rebuild accordingly following September’s flood, says the CWCB’s community assistance program coordinator Jamie Prochno. Highlights of the standards include requiring new structures to be built at least 1 foot above the water surface elevation of the 100-year floodplain, requiring “critical facilities” like schools and hospitals to be built at least 2 feet above the floodplain, and instituting a more restrictive floodway for new flood studies. When the standards were adopted, communities around the state were given a three-year transition period to finalize their flood ordinances, and the higher floodplain standards were being rolled out when the September 2013 flood hit. Prochno says the standards won’t change in the wake of the flood. Higher standards reduce the risk of flood losses, which also translates to lower flood insurance premiums. For example, in Fort Collins, where city officials have undertaken significant flood mitiga-
In Milliken, the confluence of the Big and Little Thompson rivers in September 2013 spewed floodwaters far exceeding FEMA’s mapped 100-year floodplain. In April 2014, the Town of Milliken approved an extended regulatory floodplain, beyond FEMA’s lines, which will impact local building codes but not the National Flood Insurance Program, which uses FEMA’s map. FEMA, too, plans to update its lines, but it could take several years.
tion steps, flood insurance policy holders in highrisk areas receive a 30 percent discount on their policies, says Gease. Still, many residents whose homes have been destroyed find themselves in limbo while waiting for the mapping analyses to be complete. According to the Post, more than 70 properties in Larimer County may now be in the floodway and cannot be rebuilt. In Weld County’s Milliken—where Gease says the flooding exemplified the magnitude of the difference between what was mapped and what actually happened—residents of a decimated trailer park are waiting for the green light to return. The trailer park was not in the designated floodplain, although it was near the South Platte River, and none of the residents had flood insurance. Updating the town’s floodplain map could render the land a designated floodplain, and with that designation would come strict building requirements. Until that process is complete, many of the residents are in the unenviable position of choosing to move somewhere else or wait to return to their home, knowing that may not be an option. Moving more quickly than most, the tiny 300-member town of Jamestown embarked on an ambitious project to redraw its floodplain map in a period of three months—and then started rebuilding. That despite the obvious risks. After all, the flooded James Creek of September 2013 decimated Jamestown: With 26 homes destroyed and another 37 damaged, only 20 residents continued to inhabit the community after the flood. One man was killed when a massive landslide crushed his home. Headwaters | Summer 2014
The town’s water supply was ravaged. With its roads and bridges washed out, the town was rendered virtually inaccessible. But with Mayor Tara Schoedinger at the helm, Jamestown residents are determined to rebuild. Summoning the small town spirit they say distinguished the picturesque community, residents have held fundraisers, pitched in to clear out debris and damaged structures, and congregated online at rebuildjamestown.org, where links guide people to give tax-deductible donations and to follow the town’s progress. Jamestown, which operates on an annual budget of $56,000, has since received more than $5 million toward rebuilding from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). That includes almost $1.1 million to 211 residents through FEMA's Individuals and Households Program, and more than $2.5 million in low-interest SBA loans. The town’s post office reopened in February, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repaired damage to the stream corridor along a town park. The remapping effort, which is guiding the rebuild, was not an idle project, says Mayor Schoedinger. “It was in response to a disaster that displaced an entire community. In order to bring people home, we needed to figure out where our post-flood, 100-year elevation is. We Find floodplain maps for communities across Colorado, or even enter in your own street address to locate your home on a map, by visiting the FEMA Map Service Center at msc.fema.gov. 25
need to design what we are going to do in the stream corridor to protect our community from 100-year floods and from spring runoff floods.” Not every community has coalesced into such a strong community effort, or made as much progress as Schoedinger’s. Out of the canyons downstream of Jamestown, in the prairie town of Evans, population 22,000, a predominantly Latino community is struggling to rebuild. Many Evans residents lack American citizenship, and in addition to losing their homes, they have faced the uncertainty of navigating federal assistance, fearful that attempts to secure recovery funding could lead to questions of citizenship or, worse, deportation. Unlike in Jamestown, there is no fundraising website for Evans.
Bearing the Costs of Risk
In the first six months after the September 2013 flood, more than $284 million in federal funds were provided for recovery. More than $222 million came in the form of disaster grants to individuals and families, flood insurance payments and low-interest loans to renters, homeowners and businesses. Nearly $63 million came as Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that were obligated to state and local governments’ response and recovery work. In the week marking precisely six months after the flood, HUD announced a second installment of those block grants, to the tune of $199 million. The message is clear: Most communities want to rebuild and the gov-
ernment assistance is there, despite the risk of a future flood of similar magnitude. For Hitchcock’s next-door neighbors, Rick DiSalvo and his wife Bonnie, the decision to rebuild has less to do with loyalty to their property and more to do with their personal finances. “We’d like to be out of harm’s way,” says DiSalvo. “But we’re thinking about resale value. We can’t do anything with our property in this condition.” Like thousands of others, to walk away now would mean forgoing the equity in what’s left of their home and defaulting on their existing mortgage. Better to take what insurance money they can, and work on putting their house back together. For Hitchcock and Todd, whose flood-ravaged property has an assessed value less than half what it was before, insurance won’t cover the full cost of rebuilding, but it will go a long way. Some homeowners may be able to sell their properties for fair-market value, as assessed before flood damage occurred, through a FEMA voluntary buyout program. Under the program, communities can apply through the state for a federal grant that provides 75 percent of the funds toward purchasing properties in the hardest-hit areas. Structures would be removed and, by law, the land would become permanently protected open space. Public parks could be developed and a buffer zone created to reduce risk from future floods. To date, the state and local governments have received 111 applications for projects totalling $225 million under the Hazard Mitigation Grant
Program, which funds not only property acquisition but also projects such as retrofitting or elevating flood-prone structures. State officials together with FEMA will determine how many of those homeowners who are seeking a buyout will be approved based on eligibility rules—a project’s projected cost benefits must meet or exceed its costs—and available funding. So far, Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the state entity overseeing the program, estimates $46 million is available to go toward those 111 applications. Once approved, buyouts can take up to one to three years to go through. Boulder County is committed to helping the 66 homeowners who applied there obtain a buyout, says public information specialist Gabi Boerkicher. For those who don’t qualify through FEMA, the next step will be to seek funds through HUD’s Community Development Block Grants. Highest priority will be given to homes in potentially hazardous areas and “homes that probably shouldn’t have been built there in the first place,” says Boerkicher. “We’ll try to help them in some way to get their money.” As rebuilding proceeds, some question who shoulders the responsibility—and the cost—of choosing to develop floodplains or governing whether and how such development should occur: Is it the community, the individual, the federal government or, ultimately, taxpayers nationwide? Government intervention in the wake of natural disasters has been standard in the
Harvard Gulch ‒City and County of Denver
(one of WWE’s first flood control projects)
floodplains design planning Wright Water Engineers has over 50 years of experience in water resources engineering.
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
A torrent of converging floodwaters coursed through the South Platte River east of Greeley in September 2013, undercutting and eroding the streambank and destroying a home and barn.
United States since the 1930s, when the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was given authority to make disaster loans for repair and reconstruction of certain public facilities following an earthquake and, later, other types of disasters. A flurry of separate laws designating disaster relief and mitigation authority to different agencies followed, and in 1979, FEMA was created by an executive order signed by President Jimmy Carter. In recent years, federal spending on disaster relief has tallied into the billions as government agencies offer assistance to communities affected by floods, wildfire, drought and more. According to a 2013 report from the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.based think tank, Congress spent at least $136 billion on disaster relief between 2011 and 2013, which comes out to about $400 per household—an expensive and unsustainable amount, say the report’s authors. Part of that spending goes to the NFIP, which has struggled with funding and solvency. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the program was roughly $25 million in debt, and in 2012 Congress passed major legislation aimed at reform. FEMA was directed to raise flood insurance premiums to more accurately reflect true flood risk. For some, flood insurance rates skyrocketed, creating a feverish backlash. In response, Congress scaled back some provisions of the 2012 law with the passage of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014. The new legislation repeals a provision in the 2012 law that threatened hundreds of thousands of homeowners with huge premium increases due to changes in risk status under updated government flood maps. Those homeowners continue to benefit from below-market rates subsidized by other policyholders, and the new legislation will preserve their grandfathered status. The measure also gives relief to people who bought homes after the changes were enacted in July 2012
and faced sharp, immediate jumps in premiums to insure older homes that did not conform to new building codes; they will see those increases rolled back. Whether or not such insurance premium reforms lead to a more stable NFIP, flood hazard mapping itself could be further improved. Brian Varella, chair of the Colorado Association of Stormwater and Floodplain Managers, believes that now that the immediate crisis has passed, Colorado should study and consider adopting some of the precautions implemented in the similarly rugged state of Vermont in the wake of 2011’s Hurricane Irene. For instance, after Irene, which destroyed more than 500 miles of roads and more than 30 bridges, Vermont created erosion buffer zones beyond its standard floodplain lines to recognize the hazards associated with a stream’s “ancient meander areas.” Put another way: When a river is flooding, it’s likely to erode streambanks and revert to original or unpredictable channels, and any structures in the way are at high risk. This is what happened in the Big Thompson and St. Vrain drainages in September 2013 and is one reason the total destruction was so great, says Varella. Even with improved mapping, however, individuals choosing to live in the 100-year floodplain are choosing to accept a certain level of risk, says FEMA’s Pietramali. The majority of people, he says, acknowledge the risk of living in a floodplain even as they are stunned at the damage that can occur when a flood comes. “How do you get people to understand risk and act upon that knowledge?” Pietramali asks. “There is no easy way. We have to increase the awareness of flood risks nationwide. We have to show them case studies and build floodplain and risk maps that resonate so people understand how to use them.” Yes, state, federal and municipal governments must educate citizens and share information, says City of Boulder’s Bauer, but they need to simultaneously urge individuals to Headwaters | Summer 2014
consider the choices they’re making. “There’s a perception that the government will swoop in and save people or prevent their house from flooding or pull their car out of a creek,” he says. “And, sometimes, that happens. There are the pictures of the National Guard evacuating Lyons. But the bottom line is that people need to know about the community they live in.” Specifically, residents should understand there are 15 major drainage ways in Boulder County and that the county has a multi-hazard mitigation plan—“Read it,” Bauer urges. In addition, people should think twice before choosing to rebuild in an area where the flood hazard remains. “Do you really want to reconstruct your basement with another $80,000 when it is in the middle of the floodplain?” he asks. “There’s a concept of repetitive loss and we need to ask if that’s responsible—for us as individuals, for the environment, for everything. Does it make sense?” To Mayor Schoedinger and the Jamestown community, the answer is unequivocal. “This wasn’t a disaster we could have ever predicted or imagined,” she says. “And while there’s a good chance we are going to have big events like this in the future, we can do our best to protect our community and do everything we can to make it safer. Yes, we live in steep canyons and have wide channels and there is debris that can wreak havoc. But we will rebuild because Jamestown is the most special community where a person could live. I cannot imagine future generations not having the opportunity to live here.” Not everyone is so certain, as evidenced by the plight of Hitchcock and Todd, the DiSalvos, and countless others whose mortgages now exceed their property value. “Would we walk away if we could?” asks Hitchcock, who is now in the process of rebuilding. “Quite possibly. But we can’t afford to. Almost all of our money is locked up in the house. If we left, we’d have nothing. q 27
President’s Award To honor the great men and women of Colorado water, CFWE annually recognizes two exemplary leaders who demonstrate above-and-beyond commitment to water resources stewardship and education. In 2014, CFWE is proud to honor Alan Hamel with its President’s Award for lifetime achievement in water education and Sean Cronin with its Emerging Leader Award. The awards were presented during CFWE’s annual reception on May 2 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.
Caring for People and Watersheds Alan Hamel, President’s Award Honoree
Theo Stroomer (2)
By Justice Greg Hobbs In the course of managing Pueblo’s water deGrowing up in Pueblo in the 1950s, Alan Hamel partment for 30 years, Alan shouldered up one liked to swim in the Arkansas River. His father, great civic project after another. The city went on Bob, owned an automobile repair business. His hard times when the steel mill’s work force was mother, Jean, worked as a psychiatric technician greatly reduced. But this didn’t stop this union at the state hospital. In those days, Pueblo was a town from diversifying its employment base. For gritty industrial town largely dependent on Colothe first part of his 52-year career with the Puebrado Fuel and Iron, its steel and iron mill the princilo Board of Water Works, Alan was a member pal employer. Ethnically diverse, a town of working of the union that represented the water workers. men and women located at the confluence of the When he moved to management, his candor, Arkansas River and Fountain Creek, Pueblo had a energy and person-to-person relationship skills long history of manufacturing rails for the narrow bridged many difficult negotiations and forged gauges that opened up the Colorado Rockies for ongoing alliances. Alan relates, “I learned to deal mining, timbering, settlement and recreation. in issues and avoid stirring up people against Alan is a son of Pueblo’s native watershed. each other. We reached agreement on a process His grandfather Albin Hamel served as supervifor identifying problems and coming up with recsor for the San Isabel National Forest, stretching ommendations. You need working partnerships, west of the city to the summit of the Sangre de good people.” Cristo range. Lacking any federal funds to build a Not just in the workplace, but also in the marrecreational facility in the forest, Albin combined ketplace and in the recreational places of our with the Commerce Club of Pueblo in 1918 to hearts, Alan has contributed remarkably. Some construct a use site in Squirrel Canyon, 30 miles will remember, as recently as the 1970s, coming west of the city. This became a West-wide model over the rise into Pueblo from the north and seeing for introducing city-dwelling families to the joys little but an inversion of smoke and dust one had of fishing, hiking, picnicking and camping in their Alan Hamel’s 52-year water career and commitment to water stewardship earned him CFWE’s 2014 to drive through to get to Santa Fe. Today, you see local watersheds. President’s Award. a welcoming place standing clearly on the plains in Working his way through college as a relief shift pump station operator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works begin- sight of the shining Sangre de Cristos. You can walk and shop along the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk. Alan ning in 1960, Alan has become a model water worker and community builder. He’s a life-long water educator, serving as well on the board of chaired that commission. You can fish the Arkansas a long ways back the Colorado Foundation for Water Education from 2006 to 2012 as up to its source on the Continental Divide. You can raft a long way its treasurer. Today he chairs the Colorado Water Conservation Board, back down the river from its headwaters. As a member of the Southcharged by Colorado’s General Assembly and the governor with col- eastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, Alan helped put in place the voluntary water release regimen from Twin Lakes down laborating in the development of a state water plan. Consulting with the nine river basin roundtables and the Interbasin to Pueblo Reservoir that makes possible a vibrant Arkansas River recCompact Committee is the process by which this plan will come to reational corridor. As a member of the Colorado Water Conservation fruition. Alan is a fortuitous fit for this complex volunteer job. He has de- Board, along with his fellow board members, Alan regularly votes for voted a lifetime to supplying water for Coloradans, who love the state’s new and enhanced instream flow water rights to protect Colorado’s rivrecreational grandeur and also benefit from a strong economy that pro- erine environment. Drive slowly from Buena Vista to Salida on a summer day, go up to vides a paying job. 28
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
use plans for an enduring sharing arrangement between municipal and agricultural users. “You need a good base load of storage to do this,” says Alan, “… enough flexibility to withstand drought. You don’t want to permanently dry up lands you don’t have to.” He adds, “Colorado needs a water plan. We’ve reached a time when, as a state, we need to come together for our future. We need to share water resources, infrastructure and tools we haven’t even thought about.” Grace under pressure can gauge a person’s meritorious contribution to community. Alan treasures a polished-up brass pressure clock the employees of the Pueblo Board of Water Works gave him when he retired in 2012. It dates back to 1874, measuring the pressure along that pump station line he maintained as a working college kid.
Theo Stroomer (2)
Shifting Rivers, Changing Course Sean Cronin, Emerging Leader Honoree Sean Cronin (left) accepted the 2014 Emerging Leader award from CFWE board president Gregg Ten Eyck in May.
the revived Mt. Princeton hot springs and take a soak, hike into the Collegiate Peaks, take a look out on those lovely high mountain hay ranch open spaces irrigated by waters of the Arkansas, and you’ll see this business of Colorado’s agricultural, municipal and recreational economy is alive and well due to many public and private relationships well-forged by people like Alan. A river can’t live to do its work and play and run along without being tended well. A good water plan serves the spectrum of human and environmental needs Coloradans value. The Pueblo Board of Water Works has a portfolio of transbasin Colorado River water rights and native Arkansas River water rights it owns, supplemented by annual deliveries from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Most recently, under Alan’s tenure, Pueblo’s water utility has acquired 25 percent of the Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Company shares with storage in Pueblo Reservoir. It currently leases back 100 percent of this water to farmers. The utility’s aim is to keep as much of this water as possible in agriculture, except when needed by the municipal customers it serves in scarce water years. It is looking at negotiating and implementing rotational land and water
Sean Cronin got used to planning for drought in his former job as water resources manager for the City of Greeley. But since the devastating September 2013 flood in northern Colorado, he’s been coping with way too much water. As executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, Sean is helping to piece together relationships necessary to construct more resilient water systems and riverine habitat for the near and long term. He receives many phone calls from those who’ve lost stream frontage—or gained it—when canyon rivers burst their temporal perimeters, carved new channels, wrecked headgates, stranded ditches, and ruined homes built on what might have seemed reliable ground. “I am trying to match up municipalities and ditch companies with state and federal financial help,” he says. “Our district includes some of the hardest-hit towns and water facilities, including Lyons. I try to deal with people’s passions and help them with information and solutions.” Much of his work involves education. “Those with new streamfront property think they automatically get water rights now. Those who have water rights might push forward immediately with ‘permanent’ structures. But temporary measures might do the job and lead to better results for water users and riverine habitat in the long run.” Sean’s steady resolutions under immense pressure are earning accolades. q
Thank you to our 2014 President’s Award reception sponsors Silver Sponsors St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District Denver Water Lyons Gaddis Kahn Hall Jeffers Dworak and Grant Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek HDR Pueblo Board of Water Works Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority CDM Smith Southwestern Water Conservation District
Bronze Sponsors The Colorado River District George K. Baum and Company Leonard Rice Engineers, Inc. White and Jankowski Collins Cockrel and Cole Black and Veatch Aurora Water West Sage Water Consultants Porzak Browning and Bushong LLP
Supporting Sponsors Deere and Ault Consultants, Inc. Brandon and Alicia Prescott CH2M HILL Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Hydro Resources Kogovsek and Associates, Inc. South Metro Water Supply Authority
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Publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Headwaters magazine is made possible by the generous support of sponsors and advertisers. We would like to extend our appreciation and thanks to the following sponsors for contributing financially to this issue:
Central Colorado Water Conservancy District
Southwestern Water Conservation District
Published on Jul 1, 2014
Read about the September 2013 flooding in northeastern Colorado, short and longer-term flood protection, a stronger rebuild after a flood ev...