After the Flood: A year later remembering the September 2013 flooding (CFWE) #COflood

September 16, 2014

Headwaters cover Summer 2014 via the Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Headwaters cover Summer 2014 via the Colorado Foundation for Water Education


Click here to visit the Colorado Foundation For Water Education website for their radio program look back at the September 2013 flooding.

Click here to go to the CFWE website and the Summer 2014 issue of Headwaters “Flooded and Coming Back Stronger” for their flood reports. Here’s an excerpt (Caitlin Coleman):

For 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.


Xcel Energy recovery after #COflood

September 16, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“It’s been a year since the floods destroyed a great deal of our infrastructure throughout the affected areas,” said David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, Xcel’s subsidiary in the state.

“At the time we were dedicated to taking care of our customers gas and electricity needs as quickly and safely as possible. The aftermath was about rebuilding the system and that required a great deal of planning, construction and collaboration with local and state agencies to accomplish, the bulk of which will be completed this year,” Eves said.

Xcel on Friday put out numbers for its recovery efforts:

  • $13 million spent to repair damage to the utility’s natural gas system;
  • $2.5 million spent repairing the electrical system, with more spending expected;
  • $10,000 contributed to the Foothills United Way Flood Relief to cover administrative costs for processing and collecting donations
  • More than 400 Xcel employees worked to get the natural gas distribution system operational 37 days after the rain started. It was ready for full winter service by Oct. 31, 2013;
  • About 70,000 Colorado customers that lost electric service, most were restored within 48 hours.
  • More than 4,100 customers were without natural gas service, due to damage on the system.
    Restoration of the natural gas system included replacing about 10 miles of plastic and steel pipe, and replacing about 900 of the 1,300 natural gas meters that were inspected.
  • Xcel also started a program to help customers rebuild and recover from the floods, called the “Bonus Rebates for Colorado Flood-Affected Customers.” The program, to date, has paid out more than $90,000 to 374 customers. About half the money was spent on high-efficiency furnaces and hot water heaters, Xcel said. The rebates went to customers in Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park and other areas, Xcel said.


    Fort Collins: #COWaterPlan meeting September 17

    September 16, 2014
    Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

    Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    State officials will host a meeting in Fort Collins on Wednesday, Sept. 17, to discuss the Colorado Water Plan with residents of the South Platte River Basin, the massive watershed that encompasses Fort Collins and the entire northeast corner of the state.

    The water plan is a statewide initiative to prepare for long-term water use in Colorado, where burgeoning populations along the Front Range will tax Western Slope reservoirs in years to come. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are the headwaters for most major rivers in the West, and provide water to 18 other states. But next to Arizona, the state is one of the last in the West to develop a statewide plan for water use.

    A final draft of the plan is due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by December. However, Nov. 1 is the deadline for gathering public comment on the water plan. The plan is divided into basins, and each basin will have its own plan.

    The Fort Collins meeting will address plans and concerns for the South Platte River Basin, and all residents from Fairplay to Julesberg are welcome to come. The meeting will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fort Collins Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive. There is another meeting in Denver on Oct. 1 for the South Platte basin.

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    The question is how to keep farming viable while covering a Front Range domestic supply gap expected to be between 350,000 and 500,000 acre-feet per year?

    The state’s eight water basins are negotiating solutions that will culminate in a Colorado Water Plan for future management due out late next year.

    Front Range metro suppliers say the solution is diverting more water from Western Slope rivers and reservoirs via the 22 transmountain diversions already in place.

    But state water districts west of the Continental Divide are calling foul, and have calculated that if Front Range residents stop watering their thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass lawns it will be enough to make up the supply shortage.

    “Ninety percent of domestic water use — your kitchen, bathroom, showers — makes it back to the river systems and reservoirs through return flows. It has less water-supply impact than watering lawns, which absorb 70-80 percent of it,” said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservation District.

    Preston is also chairman of the Southwest Water Roundtable, tasked with forming a local strategy for responsible water use and policy.

    “The state proposes a 60-40 standard for domestic water consumption, 60 percent for in-home and 40 percent for outdoor lawns to better conserve water for ag production and population growth,” he said “But we’re getting a lot of pushback from Front Range water suppliers who are accustomed to the 50-50 ratio now.”

    For domestic water obtained via transmountain diversions, the suggested ratio is 70 percent indoor use, and 30 percent outdoor use.

    Furthermore, increasing transmountain diversions have far-reaching consequences. Siphoning off more Western Slope water to the Front Range threatens the state’s water-contract obligations for downstream states like Arizona, Nevada and California who depend on Colorado River basin water stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

    “They’re watching our water polices, more than we look at theirs,” Preston said. “Colorado is the headwaters for a lot of their supply.”

    Meanwhile Western Slope water — especially the Blue Mesa Reservoir complex, near Gunnison, and Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir — are looked at with envious eyes by Front Range water districts.

    But the massive reservoirs are mainly designed to store water for contractual delivery to Lake Powell and Lake Mead relied on by Lower Basin states.

    Colorado is entitled to 51 percent of Colorado River basin water above Lees Ferry, Ariz. Once it is diverted to the Front Range, it is lost to the Colorado River system, eventually draining east toward the Mississippi River.

    To make a dent in unsustainable water demand in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, they should become more like Las Vegas, local water officials say.

    The city’s successful lawn conservation program has vastly reduced water consumption, and includes strict drought-resistant landscaping regulations for future development…

    “Front Range water district plans all include transmountain diversion as the solution,” Preston said. “We’re saying it won’t be considered until you get more aggressive about domestic conservation by limiting outdoor watering.”

    More education is needed about the importance of responsible water management, said Bruce Whitehead, of the Southwest Water Conservation District.

    “Many people don’t have a clue about the state water plan or the issues we’re facing,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in our basin to educate the constituency.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Sean Cronin: “…as of August 28, 2014, 91% of the 44 damaged ditches are now back online” #COflood

    September 15, 2014

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception


    After the flood Mr. Cronin found himself in meeting after meeting from the early hours on September 12 thru the weekend and on and on for the next few months. Here’s what he told the folks at the Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award shindig this spring where he was named an Emerging Leader. Here’s part of the story of the flood from his point of view:

    When asked back in January of 2014 to put something together for Coyote Gulch I responded “am really short on time, my calendar frees up in March”. Well spring came and went, summer was a blur and now it is a full year since the devastating floods of September 2013. To be honest, if I wrote something in January, I think it would have been a bit pessimistic, as often times the recovery efforts were all consuming and really challenged any sense of hope. Ironic that it was the workload of the flood recovery that prevented me from writing and it was the flood that taught me yet another lesson, let things ferment and breath; given time even dire situations will eventually show you an encouraging future.

    In September 2013, St. Vrain Creek experienced a catastrophic flood event which uprooted roadways, severely eroded private property, ruined homes, dramatically changed the creek corridor, and significantly damaged or destroyed public and private raw water infrastructure. Because there were limited federal, state and local jurisdictions to modify the post-flood stream condition, it became clear to many that private/public partnerships and multi-agency cooperation was critical for a successful recovery.

    During the early weeks of the September 2013 Flood recovery, repairs were occurring in some locations, though in other areas property owners were asking “who is going to fix this?” The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District immediately recognized that the property owners’ rights needed to be a top priority. However, the scale of the flooding disaster and the interconnectivity of a living steam and associated ecosystem presented some financial and interdependency challenges. For example, it was not a stretch to imagine that there would likely be instances of individual efforts to restore specific segments of the stream that would then create problems downstream.

    To minimize recovery challenges and maximize limited resources, many agencies, including Boulder County, City of Longmont, Town of Lyons, and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, promoted and implemented a strategy of collaboration. The collaboration along St. Vrain Creek started in the weeks following the flood and was quickly viewed by impacted citizens as safe, un-bureaucratic, nimble, and effective. In the months to follow, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provided significant financial assistance to ditch companies, in addition to numerous agencies for the furtherance of collaboration. Today these collaborative efforts are now known as “Coalitions”, and one is occurring in each of the flood impacted tributaries of the South Platte River.

    Through vision, leadership, hard work, multi-agency and nonprofit support, and Ditch Company and property owner persistence the recovery effort has far surpassed the expectations of many who stood in awe of the flood ravaged areas. For example, within the boundaries of St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (DWR District 5) 44 of the 94 local ditches suffered damaged infrastructure from the flood at an estimated cost of $18.4M.

    Through FEMA, CWCB, and grants administered by Northern Water, financial assistance was provided and as of August 28, 2014, 91% of the 44 damaged ditches are now back online, with 93% expected back online after 2014. Furthermore, many ditch companies recognized the need to rebuild their infrastructure with consideration given to the ecosystem and to design elements that would withstand future high-flow events. In the St. Vrain Creek alone, there are three new diversions that pre-flood were fish impediments, and are now fish passable, with an additional four diversions under consideration or design. Although the collaborative Coalitions didn’t lift a shovel, their collective expertise, continual internal and external communications, and identification of financial and technical resources played a key role in the recovery.

    A full report and executive summary of the ditch infrastructure repairs, maps, and photos are available on the website of St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (http://www.svlhwcd.org), under the “2013 Flood” tab.

    One year later, the work is still not complete. Each of the Coalitions are actively working on producing their own watershed specific “Master Plans” that when complete will promote a holistic healthy riparian corridor and a stream system that will be better able to handle future floods, while preserving critical infrastructure, including that used for agricultural production. If successful, these Master Plans will be embraced by affected property owners, water rights owners, ditch companies, and government agencies.

    As water mangers we are trained to manage around the extremes of drought and spring runoff. September 2013 reminded me that Mother Nature is letting us manage, but when she wants to change the rules, we are pretty much at her mercy. It is said that over time memories of disasters wane resulting in some people rebuilding in a manner that does not mitigate future disaster risk. Time will tell – for now I am hopeful that our professional water community learned from this disaster and those lessons can be passed on to future water managers.

    For me, the events that transpired in September 2013 will shape my approach to water management. As I look back, I am confident the water system we rebuilt is reflective of our societal values and a wonderful legacy for future caretakers of our natural resources. Everyone involved in this recovery should be very proud to be in a profession that cares so deeply about “managing” a resource that provides for the incredible quality of life we all enjoy. I will just continue to be mindful who is really in charge.

    Below is a gallery of then and now photos of the irrigation infrastructure along the St. Vrain River. Credit to the ditch companies.

    Here’s a presentation from Boulder County: 2014-08-05_ByTheNumbers_FinalWithTalkingPoints

    Finally, here’s a map of the river with the locations of enhanced fish passage noted.

    More St. Vrain River coverage here


    September 12, 2013: Rebuilding property and lives after the #COflood

    September 12, 2014
    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    I made the mistake of checking my Twitter feed during the early morning last September 12. All sorts of trouble was brewing in the streams flowing out of the Front Range canyons. Aurora took a pounding too as did locations in the Arkansas Basin. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

    Please take the time to read the stuff below (Click through to read the full articles that I’ve excerpted). We have some great writers covering water in Colorado.

    From Physics Today (Samantha Tushaus):

    Atmospheric scientists, their eyes on recent catastrophic weather events, are newly motivated to study orographic precipitation. Orographic precipitation—rain and snow caused or influenced by topography—is a key component of the hydrologic cycle, and scientists have long understood that the amount and distribution of precipitation depends upon topography and atmospheric characteristics.

    However, orographic precipitation also contributes to natural disasters, including flash floods. In September 2013, Boulder, Colorado, and surrounding communities in the Rocky Mountain foothills experienced rainfall so torrential as to trigger flash floods, with water levels rising dramatically over only a few hours. The floods were accompanied by heavy debris and mud, which swept away vehicles, roads, and buildings.

    Here’s a photo gallery of before and after photos from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

    Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

    Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

    From The Denver Post (Colleen O’Connor and Yesenia Robles):

    Araceli and Rito Romero lost everything in the flood that swamped their mobile home in Evans, then were cheated out of $10,000 they paid to buy another trailer home.

    Manuel Hernandez, an immigrant with a work permit, struggled to find housing for his family after their trailer home was destroyed, and now is paying twice as much to rent a space in a mobile home park.

    John Vega managed to rebuild his mobile home in Milliken, complete with new floors and walls, but now lives in limbo, uncertain whether or not the mobile home park will be closed down.

    “I told FEMA, if we have to move out of here, you’re going to have to move me out because I ain’t got money to move out,” he said on a recent afternoon, as his wife stood in their cheerful new kitchen making tamales for their granddaughter’s Quinceañera celebration.

    Araceli and Rito Romero lost everything in the flood that swamped their mobile home in Evans, then were cheated out of $10,000 they paid to buy another trailer home.

    Manuel Hernandez, an immigrant with a work permit, struggled to find housing for his family after their trailer home was destroyed, and now is paying twice as much to rent a space in a mobile home park.

    John Vega managed to rebuild his mobile home in Milliken, complete with new floors and walls, but now lives in limbo, uncertain whether or not the mobile home park will be closed down.

    “I told FEMA, if we have to move out of here, you’re going to have to move me out because I ain’t got money to move out,” he said on a recent afternoon, as his wife stood in their cheerful new kitchen making tamales for their granddaughter’s Quinceañera celebration.

    US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

    September brings painful memories for thousands impacted by last year’s floods. For one business in Lyons, the flood did virtually no physical damage, but still took a major toll. Now, though, it’s a different story at The Stone Cup, a café and restaurant on High Street.

    “We’re right back on top of things again,” said Sam Tallent, one of the co-owners.

    Nearly one year ago, things were different here.

    “It was a challenge having no business for a couple of months,” The Stone Cup co-owner Mindy Tallent said.

    The Tallents said it has been a long year for the town and its businesses.

    “We don’t really have any other options, so we just have to persevere,” Mindy Tallent said.

    The Stone Cup looks to be in great shape because the flood waters never touched it. Water swept past it onto other, lower-lying areas. Rebuilding isn’t just about the progress you can see, though. There are scars in Lyons, even for those who didn’t suffer any physical damage to their home or business.

    The café and restaurant remained closed for months because there were so few customers in town. They didn’t reopen full-time until December. What got them through it, the Tallents said, was a $55,000 federal loan from the Small Business Administration.

    “You think about the importance of businesses to our communities, it’s employment, it’s economic activity and, in the case of the Stone Cup, it’s a gathering place,” said SBA Regional Administrator Matt Varilek.

    The SBA said that in Boulder County, it received more than 2,678 loan applications after the floods and approved 68 percent of them– at a total of more than $65 million. More than $14 million of that, went to businesses in Lyons. As for the 32 percent of applications that were denied, the agency said those applicants couldn’t prove they would have the ability to repay the loan.

    The Stone Cup is one of the fortunate ones, though. The Tallents just hope other businesses in town can also bounce back enough to bring Lyons back, too.

    “I want to very seriously believe that,” said Sam Tallent, “because I think the vast majority of us want it back like that.”

    The SBA said it has provided more than $109 million in low interest loans in Colorado since the flooding. Those who get a loan have up to 30-years to pay it back.

    From MarketPlace.org (Grace Hood):

    One of the hardest-hit centers following the 2013 Colorado flood was the 2,000-person town of Lyons. Key pieces of the town’s infrastructure, like sewer, water and gas lines, were severely damaged. Fast-forward a year, the town is still working on a list of 87 projects ranging from park and riverbank repair to bridge rebuilding.

    You wouldn’t be able to tell by taking a walk down Main Street. In the town’s busiest corridor, you can barely see signs of the flood. But almost everyone in town has a story — including Connie Sullivan, owner of the St. Vrain Market.

    From KUNC (Grace Hood):

    After waters washed over Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties during the September flood, many started to rebuild. Others haven’t been able to go back.

    The easiest way for Ed and Sarah Egloff to describe their lost home in the Big Thompson Canyon is to tell you what remained on the property afterward.

    “The only thing that was in the place where I thought it should have been was the ground rod for the electrical service,” said Ed.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    It’s been a rough year for Rough’n It Wright. The floor of the small, brown cabin named for the families that owned it for decades has sagged down and been left exposed since the Big Thompson River tore away the ground supporting it last September. Some of the cabin’s contents slid out through the gap and were swept away. Other furnishings are still there: A washer and dryer hang on by power cords and a hot air ventilation pipe; mattresses cling to beds tilted toward the river. The cabin looks like a shoebox, with the bottom peeled back from one corner. A beige carpet covers much of the slatted wooden floor, the edge of which rests on jagged white and gray boulders.

    Perched under a towering canyon wall halfway between Drake and Estes Park along U.S. Highway 34, the cabin has become an icon of the 2013 flood and the challenges residents and government officials face a year later.

    While progress has been made toward recovering from the devastating deluge, years of planning and construction work remain. Natural and bureaucratic barriers must be hurdled by agencies attempting to rebuild roads and bridges and families trying to rebuild lives.

    The owner of Rough’n It Wright, Lynda Wright of Cypress, California, has not been to the cabin since the flood. Members of her extended family were in the cabin and the cottage next door — Linger Longer — during the flood and were rescued by the local volunteer fire department. Wright has only seen pictures of the devastation. But what she’s seen has made her determined to rebuild Linger Longer.

    “When I look at the pictures, I don’t see what remains,” she said. “I see what it was before.

    “I can visualize every single person I have known and loved who has been at that cabin over the years. And I am not going to give up on it.”

    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

    From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

    One of the more striking images during the September flood was of inundated oil and gas pads, washed out earthen berms and overturned storage tanks. In all, over 48,000 gallons of oil and condensate spilled. While changes have been made in the industry to prepare for another flood, so far, they’re strictly voluntary.

    Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said that while there were some visible spills, the situation could have been much worse.

    “Frankly [it was] a relatively small number of spills, a relatively small volume of oil and gas that was released,” he said.

    From his standpoint, the industry performed well during the flooding, closing off wells — a process known as shutting in the well — that were at risk of flood damage before waters rose. The agency is looking at possible rule changes for sites near rivers and streams including anchoring storage tanks, installing impenetrable liners, and erecting fences. But for now, they’re strictly recommendations and no new rules have yet been approved.

    Even so, some companies are making changes on their own accord. For example, in areas prone to flooding, earthen berms have been replaced with metal ones, which perform better in flooding.

    “Earthen berms tended to wash away and potentially lead to greater impacts,” Lepore said.

    The agency has considered making that a rule change, and has talked with the industry about doing so. Lepore said the change would most likely be accepted without much resistance.

    “Honestly I don’t think the rule making would be too controversial,” he said. “I think most operators see the wisdom of the practices that we’ve recommended.”

    Doug Hock, a spokesman with Encana Corporation, which has wells throughout Weld County, including some in low-lying areas, said he agreed with the recommendations laid out in the COGCC post-flood report. Although none of them are binding yet.

    “These are recommendations that align with our best practices and you know, again we look at this, it really goes along with the measures we took,” Hock said.

    The flood, and the subsequent damage to their wells, cost the company several hundred thousand dollars Hock said. Overall the procedures in place at the affected well sites worked. This included the automatic shut-in of at-risk wells.

    However, Sam Schabacker, director of the Colorado branch of Food and Water Watch, a group that believes hydraulic fracturing should be banned, said more needs to be done than leaving the industry to self regulate.

    “There are no rule changes, there was no legislation,” Schabacker said. “So Coloradans haven’t been protected from future flooding activities in any meaningful way.”

    “There are no new rules and regulations saying, for example, that you shouldn’t build in a flood zone, you should not be drilling in a place that typically floods and has historically done so in the state. So I think that it’s really astonishing to me, and us at Food and Water Watch, that after this unprecedented flood that nothing has resulted, no changes.”

    Encana’s Hock said the company anchored tanks to concrete and installed impervious liners for spill mitigation – something he calls “best practices,” before the flood.

    To Schabacker, the potential for future spills caused by flooding is still too large.

    “[We risk] tens of thousands of gallons of potentially toxic liquid washing down rivers where we grow a large percentage of our food crops, where we have people who live downstream from these areas, and there are over 6,000 almost 6,000 wells that are built in these floodplain areas, there are more being permitted every day, and there have been no changes,” Shabacker said.

    Discussions over regulations and rule changes as a result of the flood could come up at the next scheduled Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing – including requiring metal berms to be installed around flood prone wells. However, COGCC’s Lepore said that’s not officially on the agenda.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Benes):

    One year after the 2013 Front Range flood, which hit Northern Colorado on Sept. 11-12, 2013, work is still in progress to repair local natural resources.

    The Poudre Wilderness Volunteers are hosting a work day Saturday and Sunday to continue rebuilding efforts of the North Fork Trail by Glen Haven and mark the one-year anniversary of the flood.

    The initial assessment of damage on forest infrastructure and facilities in Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests — which include Larimer and Boulder counties — was estimated at $17.8 million, according to Reghan Cloudman, spokeswoman for the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.

    And about $950,000 was done in damage to Larimer County parks and open spaces, according to Travis Rollins, open space operations manager for Larimer County Natural Resources.

    Approximately half of the work has been completed on Larimer County open spaces. FEMA paid for 75 percent of the total, the state paid 12.5 percent and Larimer County paid 12.5 percent.

    Larimer County residents have contributed hundreds of hours helping the natural resources department with flood cleanup and repairs.

    The U.S. Forest Service is not eligible for FEMA grants. The agency allocated $5.2 million of its budget in 2014 to recovery and will spend all but $600,000 of that this fiscal year.

    Dan Hull before and after photos

    Dan Hull before and after photos

    Here’s a photo gallery of before and after photos from The Denver Post.

    From The Denver Post (Electa Draper):

    While area landfills still are receiving flood debris a year after the storms, some water experts believe too much might have been cleaned up and could in time hurt the rivers.

    The piles of muck-coated possessions of residents hit hardest by the September 2013 floodwaters mostly are gone from view, but every big rain that scours a river channel pries loose more debris.

    Shards of metal, splintered wood, fractured drywall, ripped carpet, fence pickets and tattered plastic still can be loosed after a year of being encased in riverbeds somewhere upstream.

    More than 1,800 homes were destroyed and more than 28,000 others damaged, according to the Colorado Recovery Office.

    “We’re about 99 percent done with household debris, but it’s still an ongoing cleanup effort,” said Dan Gudgel, division manager for Waste Connections, which runs the Erie landfills. “You can still see debris in rivers and streams.”

    “It’s hard to put a good number on the amount of flood debris,” Gudgel said, “but I would estimate we’ve seen 50,000 tons” at the Erie landfills, the epicenter of flood-debris disposal.

    For Coloradans in love with their state’s beauty, the September 2013 floods revealed an uglier side of nature. Trees snapped and stripped clean like toothpicks, broken branches, gnarled roots and heaps of sand, gravel and rock look nasty lodged around a favorite walking trail, swimming hole or backyard.

    Yet there is trash, and then there is debris that is a critical piece of river restoration.

    “I’m very concerned that we have hauled too much away,” said Chris Sturm, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s river-channel expert. He’s the coordinator of the interagency Stream Team that’s guiding watershed restoration.

    “The river is a puzzle that the flood took apart,” Sturm said. “If you want to put it back together, the last thing you should do is throw out pieces of the puzzle.”

    He believes some area landowners and officials might have overreacted and removed too much sediment, wood and rock.

    Large woody debris can be removed from the channel but stockpiled nearby, he recommends.

    “Let’s use that wood and sediment to reshape and restabilize the channels,” Sturm said.

    In some places, they already have.

    Along the St. Vrain Greenway in Longmont, unsightly piles of wood, sand and rock remain at random intervals along the creek banks. It’s part of the plan.

    “You should keep what you can and reuse it,” said Longmont Public Works director Dale Rademacher. “It saves on transportation costs.”

    It also saves on importing new materials to shore up banks.

    Julie McKay, who heads Boulder County’s comprehensive creek planning, said some materials — colored rocks that are not native or natural components of local basins — have been brought in by some landowners.

    Yet, McKay said, she understands the urgency that private residents and officials felt immediately after the flood to shore up banks and to clear the channels ahead of the spring runoff.

    “A lot of county time and resources were spent on hazardous woody debris removal,” McKay said. “We were very oriented to what would happen in the spring if we didn’t. We’ve exhaled now. … Now it’s a planning phase.”

    As to whether it’s safe yet to go back in the rivers for recreation, it’s a personal choice stream by stream.

    Chrystal DeCoster lives in Lyons and has observed how new storm events deliver small reminders of the past devastation. She’s also seen disappointed people dragging their punctured inner tubes out of the St. Vrain.

    DeCoster’s advice: “I wouldn’t stick a toe in the water yet.”

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Whitney Bryen):

    Nearly a year after the flood that ravaged the small town [Lyons], French still flashes back every time his phone rings to the 1:30 a.m. phone call on Sept. 12, 2013, telling him to evacuate his home.

    A nearly empty medicine bottle still causes anxiety as French remembers the fear that he faced, afraid he wouldn’t have access to his medication. Thinking about the neighbors and friends who helped him get the medication he needed while he was displaced from his home is his only relief.

    Even small things, like a dripping faucet or static on the television that sounds like rushing water can lead to sleepless nights and bouts of depression, French said.

    “The flood affected me in my head, triggering all of these new things that are making me paranoid and terrified all the time,” French said. “But it also affected me in my spirit.”

    Since the flood, French has been visiting free and low-cost, drop-in counseling sessions being offered to flood survivors searching for relief. He continues to see local psychotherapist Linda Weber, who moved her practice to Lyons part-time to reach more flood survivors.

    French said that overall his fears seem to be subsiding, but as the anniversary approaches, he is concerned that the memories will set him back again.

    Here’s a photo gallery of then and now photos from Colorado Public Radio.

    From The Denver Post (William Porter):

    On a sunny, late-summer day, Eric Skokan strolled among the rows of his farm northeast of Boulder, proudly pointing out some of the vegetables he grows for his two restaurants and various farmers markets: spinach, fennel, six types of basil, cabbage, broccoli, celery, and an experimental stab at sesame plants.

    Forty yards away, two sows sprawled on their sides in a fallow patch, their piglets nursing away. Beyond them, corn stood higher than the proverbial elephant’s eye. In all, a scene of bucolic ease and nature’s largesse.

    “It’s been a great season,” said Skokan, chef-owner of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare, his farm-to-table restaurants in downtown Boulder. “Everything is looking gorgeous. Vivid green, the kind of fields that make you feel like a farmer.

    “Good, steady rains. Warm days that weren’t too hot. Prime weather.”

    Skokan, who started farming in 2007, knows something about weather, both the prime kind and wrath-of-nature punishing.

    From The Denver Post (John Aquilar):

    Karen Little finds herself in the same bind as thousands of other Coloradans hit by historic flooding a year ago — no flood insurance and a dire need to manage the aftermath of the state’s most costly and widespread natural disaster.

    “It leaves me with nothing,” said the 62-year-old bookkeeper, whose home near La Salle was decimated by an overflowing South Platte River last September. “I can’t fix my house because I don’t have the money and I don’t qualify for anything.”

    While Little got $16,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with rental assistance and house repairs, it wasn’t enough to make her house habitable again. She doesn’t make enough money to qualify for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.

    “I didn’t know I needed flood insurance,” Little said.

    That’s not unusual given the fact that drastic flooding events are not common in Colorado, said Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association executive director Carole Walker. Homeowners either don’t know about flood coverage, which is underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program and administered by FEMA, or they choose to forgo it.

    “Many people probably said, ‘I’m not in a high flood risk area’ and didn’t have it,” she said. “Colorado has not had this type of widespread, catastrophic loss from flooding.”

    Only 24,000 individuals and businesses in the state have flood insurance policies — totaling $5.6 billion in coverage.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

    A new, more secure irrigation system in Platteville has become the silver lining for 14 agricultural areas in northern Colorado that had a diversion dam wiped out by last September’s floods.

    Although few designs could have withstood such a large-scale weather event, developers of the new Beeman/Meadow Island structure say the modern system would have prevented some of the damage from the 2013 flood.

    For starters, ditch operators will no longer need to enter the South Platte to manually install stop logs that manage water flow. Lowering the floodgates will now be as easy as pulling up a phone app, said Robert Eckman, vice president of Obermeyer Hydro Inc.

    This equates to quicker response times and less risk for workers.

    “The ditch operator can now lower or raise the gate remotely using an application on his cell phone,” explained Eckman at a visit to the reconstructed irrigation facility yesterday.

    Obermeyer Hydro Inc. designed the gate and control system for the reconstruction of the Beeman/Meadow Island No. 2 River Diversion. The Wellington-based company has installed 40 similar structures across Colorado, and currently has dozens of irrigation system projects underway across Asia, Europe and South America.

    “The No. 1 thing about this system is that it is really controllable. It will maintain a constant water elevation, which is very important to pull a constant flow rate into the canal,” Eckman said. “The second thing it does is that it’s fully collapsible. In a flood, it flattens out completely and there is nothing up top that would catch the debris and worsen the flood.”

    The demand for well-engineered river diversion systems has arisen from a need for safer and more manageable facilities. In Platteville’s case, the decision to implement a more advanced structure came down to practicality, said Amy Willhite, who managed the project’s funding for Beeman Irrigating Ditch & Milling Co.

    “We asked if we wanted a Band-Aid approach or if we wanted to fix this thing for good. We decided we wanted to put the money into it to fix it right so that this wouldn’t happen again. We realized that this would cost a lot of money. Luckily, the Colorado Water Conservation Board came to the rescue with the emergency loan program,” Willhite said.

    In total, the Colorado Water Conservation Board provided $28 million in low-interest loans and grants to rebuild across the flood area. The Beeman/Meadow Island project received $2 million, approximately $1.5 million of which has been used to date. This low-interest loan will be repaid over a 30-year period.

    To contribute to engineering costs, the facility also received $50,000 in grant money through Northern Water, said Amy L. Johnson, a Northern Water project manager.

    “Northern Water is the fiscal agent for a $2.55 million grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Northern Water and CWCB worked through an application process and developed this grant program and awarded 107 different grants through two cycles,” Johnson said. “In the case of this project, the Beeman Irrigating Company received two grants, both in cycle one and cycle two.”

    Johnson said many of the grant requests received by Northern Water were similar to that of Beeman Irrigating Company. Ditch operators needed help repairing diversion structures and clearing out debris in time for the new irrigation season in August.

    In a sense, the timing of September’s flood was fortunate for farmers. Although flooding caused extensive crop losses, ditch operators were given enough time to regroup before the 2014 season, said John R. Stulp, a water policy adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    “If we were ever to have a disaster, September was the best time to have it because immediately a lot of companies had financing lined up, and grants from the state to start the assessment and engineering. Then they were able to work through the fall, winter and early spring,” Stulp said.

    He added, “By the time late winter and early spring came and the water started flowing, many were back in operation. Over 90 percent have been reconstructed so they are operational. By next spring, nearly 100 percent of those that choose to be reconstructed will be back in business.”

    Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the remaining repairs will require more careful planning.

    “Those are areas where we had the river change channels and the community is undergoing a discussion about where the river should go,” King said.

    Through collaborative efforts, King said Colorado has been able to respond quickly to natural disasters and develop action plans.

    “It’s awfully hard to have the human resources infrastructure in place and trained because this may not happen again for 100 plus years. What I think we did have in place was a dedicated staff that was willing to learn. I think we’ve all come out of this with a better understanding,” King said.

    He added, “We looked to other states that had been through natural disasters and we mobilized very quickly. We looked at all of the hurricane damage along the East Coast to get debriefings on how to go to the feds for resources.”

    For a state that has suffered an onslaught of natural disasters in recent years, King emphasized the importance of utilizing human resources to implement rapid response measures.

    “Unfortunately, it’s something we’ve gotten far too good at in Colorado. In three and half years of Governor Hickenlooper’s administration, we’ve had 13 natural disaster declarations, which is unprecedented nationwide,” King said.

    He added, “Whether it’s droughts or fires or floods — and we’ve had all three — we have become very proficient at making sure resources that are available on the federal level are mobilized and put on the ground for Coloradans. That is absolutely something we’ve become more proficient at than we would like.”

    From KRDO (Jay Polk):

    It was nearly one year ago that parts of Southwestern Colorado were hit hard by flooding rains. Water invaded homes along Cheyenne Creek and the neighborhood around it was declared a disaster area.


    Brighton works with oil and gas drillers to protect water — The Greeley Tribune

    September 10, 2014

    Wattenburg Field

    Wattenburg Field


    From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

    For almost a month last spring, Brighton business owners found out just how important the oil and gas industry was to their town. In March, shortly after the Brighton City Council put a four-month moratorium on oil and gas development — to some residents and business owners, seemingly out of the blue, with no pending applications for development — the oil and gas industry reacted, showing the tiny town what that could mean economically.

    “You have people like us, the motels, the restaurants, all these people who were doing a lot of business with oil and gas here, going ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing poking a stick in the eye of the major industry here?’” said Steve Whiteside, owner of Whiteside’s Clothing and Boots, 855 E. Bridge St., Brighton, who supplies energy employees with their industry-required flame-resistant clothing in town. “Yeah, we felt the effects.”

    The ill-timed ban seemed to punctuate the moratoriums and bans that were ongoing throughout the Front Range, with five votes in the previous election in November 2013. But Brighton was the first such city to induce the rancor of oil and gas-related businesses that helped fuel the local economy.

    The move prompted a bit of an uprising, and some local oil and gas-related businesses opted to do business elsewhere. Weeks later, the council rescinded the order under assurances from the industry that they would not submit any applications for development, so the city could buy time to study the effects it could have on its unique municipal water system that is almost entirely reliant on a series of shallow groundwater wells, ditches and streams in and around Barr Lake.

    In that time, the city worked out a deal with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, creating an order that creates larger setbacks surrounding those wells and natural waterways that supply Brighton’s water. The new boundaries extend setbacks beyond state rules because of the unique circumstances.

    “We met with operators, outlined the desire to protect the water System … then fleshed out details,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission in late July. “It’s taken the better part of two months. It’s been a collaborative process, again with various stakeholders engaged in the process all the way.”

    TIMEOUT

    For many who hadn’t been completely advised on the city’s happenings, a four-month ban on oil and gas drilling seemed almost ridiculous given where they were — almost in the heart of the Wattenberg Field, where oil and gas drilling had been a mainstay since the field was discovered in 1970.

    Kristen Chernosky, spokeswoman for the city, said it wasn’t really a ban. Chernosky wouldn’t answer questions other than through email and city officials deferred comment on the situation to her. It turns out the apparent knee-jerk reaction wasn’t so much about fear-mongering as it was a legitimate concern for the city’s water supply. The council opted for the “timeout” after hearing the industry’s intention in town, Chernosky wrote.

    “Residents within the city of Brighton have been receiving leasing offers from the oil and gas industry,” Chernosky wrote. “The city also receives frequent notices from the COGCC about drilling applications in our area. … As a result of the dramatic increase in oil and gas activity in our area, the city of Brighton put forward a four-month “timeout” to allow us to revise our oil and gas regulations.

    “Our oil and gas regulations had not been revised for eight years. The city council believed the timeout was unnecessary after the industry agreed to give the city time to update our regulations by voluntarily refraining from proposing oil and gas development within the city limits.”

    THE BAN

    Reaction to the event, however, was pronounced and potentially fueled by a growing resentment of an anti-industry sentiment across the Front Range. For those working in the oil and gas industry, as a matter of fact, it was time to do business someplace else.

    “Some of the oil related businesses took offense in a big way and said to the city of Brighton, ‘If that’s your attitude about our industry, then we won’t do business in your town anymore,’” Whiteside said. “The whole kerfuffle got squared away, but it came to blows a bit.”

    But in the two weeks it took to lift that temporary timeout, local businesses felt the pain.

    Holly Hansen, president/CEO of the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce, noticed the effects almost immediately. Soon, her members were calling.

    “I eat out in Brighton probably every day. And if you go on a normal lunch hour almost anywhere, you’ll see a long line of oil and gas employees,” Hansen said.

    Hansen said officials at Halliburton and Conoco-Phillips tried to get the city to back off its moratorium to no avail. Word came down to employees. Brighton was suddenly off limits.

    “There was just nothing,” Hansen said. “It was dead. … Something didn’t feel quite right. I had downtown merchants who weren’t really following what was going on (at city hall), in the first couple of days, saying, ‘I’m $1,000 down from last year at this time. What’s going on?’”

    The oil and gas industry in that area of southern Weld County is huge. Halliburton, which is an oil and gas service company working with the likes of Anadarko Petroleum, has a massive facility just a couple of miles north in Fort Lupton, and had recently invested more than $40 million to stay in the area, after initially seeking to move further north in the county.

    Several oil and gas employees had called Brighton home, and the time they spent away from Brighton business had an impact. The town also was reliant on other industry-related businesses.

    “There was a gas station in town that had a sign saying, “We love Halliburton,” said Jared Whipple, an area resource coordinator for Halliburton, on a recent lunch at the Philly Cheese Steak at the Pavillions in downtown Brighton.

    Shortly after the industry showed its collective might, the council agreed to rescind the ban. Meanwhile, the city would get to work with the COGCC on the concerns of its water system.

    “Actually, as soon as the (measure) was revoked, business did come back to Brighton, and that made companies really happy,” Hansen said. “But also, and I talked at length with folks from Halliburton, they made it clear they appreciated Brighton and the support the town gives to families of employees. The overall kind of lesson was that oil and gas has to work in tangent with the city because it’s such an important industry.”

    Business owners, while lauding any agreement the city could make, feel that cloud has lifted.

    “From a business point of view, it was a bit shortsighted,” Whiteside said of the council’s ban. “It was presumptive, and I’m sure all with good intentions. But you know, people that aren’t really involved in (oil and gas) business maybe don’t realize how business works. It’s just such a key part of the economy in the area.

    “It was a little frustrating, but government oftentimes proves they’re really disconnected from what’s reality. I’d think in this particular issue, they might have stopped and talked to a few people first.”

    Small business owner Gary Mikes, who was opposed to any ban, spoke out against it to the council.

    “It just sends a message that, ‘We don’t want your business, go away,’” said Mikes, who said his refrigeration business wasn’t directly affected by the temporary ban. “I look at it as a microcosm of what will happen statewide if we vote for no oil and gas exploration. These people will pack up and go to other places like Texas and Oklahoma, and we’ll be left holding our hands with nothing.”

    The event laid the groundwork the city council was looking for in protecting the city’s unique water resources.

    A NEW DAY

    Brighton’s water system includes about 11 shallow groundwater wells near ponds and Barr Lake, both of which serve as water storage for the town, as well as some streams and ditches that are integral parts of the city’s water supply, COGCC Director Matt Lepore told the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at its monthly meeting held July 28 in Greeley.

    “The circumstances in Brighton are unique,” Lepore said. “The regulatory agencies have crafted a unique response and solution that is appropriate we believe in these circumstances. The intent is this is a site-specific response to these set of circumstances.”

    The agreement — which is not intended in any way to set a precedent for other municipalities throughout the state — will prohibit drilling around several natural water sources and shallow groundwater wells that make up a majority of the city’s municipal water system.

    The commission unanimously approved the order preventing drilling from 500 feet around water wells and 300 feet from the city’s many streams, ponds and ditches, all of which make up about 70 percent of the city’s water.

    Lepore explained that the agreement also called for groundwater sampling — once before and twice after drilling — for all drilling locations within a half-mile of water wells or from 301 to 500 feet of a river or a stream, or a ditch.

    “All the parties with a stake in this have been engaged and crafted this order together and presented it as a joint presentation for approval,” Lepore told the commission. “This represents a great partnership between the state, municipality and operators. We all came together, worked hard and identified the issue, and we’re pleased to put this order in front of you and ask you to adopt it.”

    COGCC member Tommy Holton, who also is mayor of neighboring Fort Lupton, said he could understand the council’s concerns about drilling, especially being new and having so much mis-information out there.

    He said the agreement that came out of the mess, while not at all to be used as a template for other cities, showed that all entities could work together to come up with an amicable agreement.

    Mikes said he was pleased to hear that the parties could come together on a plan.

    “I’m encouraged they came to compromise. It’s shows the stakeholders they can come together,” Mikes said. “It’s 100 times better than an outright ban, not even considering the economic impacts to what happens when you totally ban something.”

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    9News series about #COwater and the #COWaterPlan — Mary Rodriguez

    September 10, 2014


    9News.com reporter Mary Rodriguez has embarked on a series about the Colorado Water Plan and water issues in Colorado. The first installment deals with Cheesman Dam and Reservoir. Here’s an excerpt:

    It is something most of us take for granted: running water. Colorado is now beginning to grapple with how to keep the tap flowing, both now and in the future. As the state develops a water plan, set to be released in December, we are beginning a series of stories revolving around that precious resource…

    Cheesman Reservoir and Dam

    Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, it’s a place of stillness and a quiet refuge. Yet, it’s also a place capable of wielding immense power.

    Cheesman Reservoir is a major source of water for communities up and down the Front Range. It holds 25 billion gallons of water. That’s enough water to cover Sports Authority Field with a foot of water more than 79,000 times. All of it is held in place by the Cheesman Dam, which was built nearly 110 years ago.

    “It was tremendous foresight that this reservoir has been pretty much unchanged in all that time,” documentary filmmaker Jim Havey of Havey Productions said.

    The reservoir is just one of the places Havey is beginning to capture as part of an upcoming documentary called “The Great Divide.” The subject? Water.

    “We looked at water, initially, as a great way to tell the story of Colorado,” he said.

    Colorado’s water system is a complex combination of reservoirs, rivers and dams. As the state’s population has grown, though, there has been a greater need to come up with a water plan that can evolve with time.

    “Really, it is all connected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesperson for Denver Water, which bought the Cheesman Reservoir nearly 100 years ago.

    Denver Water– along with water municipalities and agencies across Colorado– is now working on a long-term plan for Colorado’s water. It includes, among other things, figuring out the best way to manage the state’s water as it flows between different river basins and whether or not to create more reservoirs.

    “We’re not planning just for today, we’re planning for tomorrow– 25 years, 50 years down the road,” Thompson said. “And we have many challenges that we’re looking into, just like our forefathers had.”

    Those challenges include how to provide enough water for people and industries in Colorado, as well as people in 18 other states– and even two states in Mexico– which also get their water from rivers that begin in Colorado.

    “What the water plan is going to mean, I don’t think anybody knows yet,” Havey said.

    Yet, it’s a plan that has a lot riding on it below the surface. The first draft of the state’s water plan is due in December and is expected to be presented to the state legislature next year. For more information about the water documentary, “The Great Divide,” go to http://bit.ly/1qDftUO.

    More Denver Water coverage here. More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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