A Monday night, March 31, City and County presentation about flood preparation left me feeling good about our local officialdom: their professionalism and the incredibly hard work they’ve been doing to prepare for future flooding, including during the all-important spring runoff season that starts in a few weeks.
You too can share in my confidence by viewing the video of that night’s presentation by Mike Chard, director of the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, that’s been posted on the City website (go to this page and select the video titled “Flood Recovery and Preparedness Presentation”).
Mike Chard (City of Boulder photo)
Chard’s presentation was lucid, reassuring, and sprinkled with interesting but understandable jargon that showed me there’s a whole body of sophisticated expertise — largely unknown to laymen — at work in the emergency-preparedness professions.
The evening began and ended with an opportunity for informal Q&A, with all manners of City, County and nonprofit organization reps holding forth downstairs in the Municipal Building. The evening was punctuated in the middle by Chard’s presentation upstairs in the Council chambers. Both gatherings were not that heavily attended — probably because, for all the flood coverage, “only” about 6,000 of Boulder’s 40,000-plus households actually experienced flood damage.
Boulder City and County have been systematically working through a checklist of flood-damage mitigation, particularly the clearing away of sand, rock and tree-branch debris from waterways. They have a lot more work to do. By the time all of the damage to the city’s infrastructure has been repaired — probably not for two to three years — the effort will have cost about $40 million, with FEMA expected to reimburse 75 percent of that total and the State of Colorado another 12-1/2 percent, said Chris Meschuk, a City of Boulder planner.
What unfolds during the spring season will depend on how fast the unusually deep snows upstream melt and whether hard rainfalls come at the same time. But no matter how these two factors play out, flooding will be “nothing close to what we saw” last Sept. 11-14, Chard noted reassuringly. The highest-risk areas are in the Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek channels because these are the two waterways that draw water from high up near the Continental Divide, where deep “snowsheds” remain.
Two somewhat troubling factors that officials mentioned are: first, there remain high levels of groundwater saturation from last September, which could take up to a year and a half to settle back to more normal levels; and, second, we need to keep an eye out for predictions from climate forecasters of another El Niño period, which would foretell heavier-than-normal rainfall (none has been issued yet).
Residents were urged to sign up at www.boco911alert.com for emergency weather advisories, to own a special kind of radio that receives weather alerts, and (during emergency periods) to access the website boulderoem.com or the Twitter link @boulderoem.
Residents were also urged to buy flood insurance. I asked why the City has repeatedly touted buying flood insurance in its messages this year. “We do that every year,” an official told me. As for me, living in a neighborhood very hard hit by the flood and in a house that itself sustained some minor damage, I succumbed for the first time in 25 years and bought $460-a-year flood insurance (which, as it turns out, doesn’t cover a lot of things).
Interestingly, during the evening’s informal conversations and in the presentations upstairs, one phrase I never heard uttered was “climate change.” Hmmm.
Funny, while walking on Eagle Trail north of Boulder two days ago, I noticed air pollution to the northeast of Boulder, rather than in its usual place, which is in a trail drifting northward from Denver (except on days when it’s ubiquitous or, thanks to high to moderate winds, not present).
The following article makes me wonder whether what we were seeing was from the extensive fracking activity going on to the northeast of us. Excerpt:
There are over 51,000 fracking wells in Colorado, most of which have been drilled in the last four years. These wells, which produce both gas and oil, also leak gases like methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas.
Read the article, reported by Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman and published on Nation of Change.
(The picture above is a Nation of Change file photo, not what I saw that day.)
Mt. Sanitas open space after the storm (Reporter video)
Here in northwest Boulder, we were pretty much at ground zero of the most intense wave of the Great Colorado Monsoon, which hit its peak on the night of Wednesday, September 11, 2013.
On that night, what had been a hard rain much of the day became an eerily hard downpour, pounding on the flat roof above our heads. I went outside to make sure the gutters and downspouts were all working; they weren’t, and soon I was climbing a ladder to the roof, then scrambling around the yard, removing obstructions to try to get the water flowing off the roof and away from the house.
Toward midnight, the rain seemed to get even harder. As a journalist, I am inflicted with a malady that drives me zombie-like toward “breaking news.” It was thus that I set out northward from our house at about midnight, under a very large umbrella.
Within five or so minutes I had walked the bike path running north of 4th St. and Kalmia Ave., reaching the corner where Linden intersects Wonderland Hill Ave. In calmer times, Linden Ave. is a fairly major road leading from Broadway up to the Pine Brook Hills neighborhood above North Boulder. A usually dry ditch runs west to east at the north end of a big open field, then there are houses.
But that night, in the dark, I looked north at the field and did a double take. Two giant rivers of gray water were flowing across the formerly empty field. A catchment basin on the corner was full, water pouring out of its east end in a torrent. I suspected that, were I to stand there much longer, that water was going to overflow its channel and start flowing south — towards me. I turned and walked quickly back down the bike path, looking backward frequently to check for water coming at me.
By some point later that night, the water did in fact begin racing southward on the bike path toward Kalmia, where it turned left and merged with other eastward-rushing streams to become a river racing down Kalmia, setting in to its job of flooding many of the houses between 4th St. and Broadway.
It turns out the situation on Linden was more dangerous even than I knew. As I was to learn in the next two days, two teenagers died that Wednesday night probably a quarter-mile west on Linden. Four kids had tried to run their car through the rushing water to get up to Pine Brook Hills. Bad move. One boy’s body was found quickly, his girlfriend’s only later. Two others lived.
A video I shot Thursday afternoon from the corner where I’d stood staring in amazement the night before.
We spent much of Friday dealing with a flooded guest bedroom, fortunately enlisting a contractor friend to help us move furniture and tear out wet carpeting and a few inches of drywall. The scope of our particular “flood” didn’t extend to the inches or feet of standing water suffered by a lot of neighbors. And, no, our insurance doesn’t cover it.
Our triage tasks complete, we set out walking the neighborhood around 4th St. to view the damage done to foothills hiking trails and nearby streets. A tweeted photo from Congressman Jared Polis had already alerted me about the state of the block of Hawthorne Ave. going uphill west from 4th St. toward Jared’s childhood home. Going up the hill we realized that water, amazingly, had carved long, deep trenches into the pavement. The torn-up asphalt was now a tableau of small waterfalls.
As we walked on, neighbors exchanged stories about whose houses had flooded and how badly. On the mountainside, mudslides had laid bare three long gashes of exposed earth and rocks, each maybe a quarter-mile long. Sand and mud and rocks were strewn about in yards and streets.
The storm was capricious. On that Thursday morning, I drove fairly easily across town to Home Depot to buy a length of downspout. Many blocks of neighborhoods adjacent to ours, such as Newlands and Mapleton Hill, showed few signs of damage except occasional debris or water rushing along at curbsides.
But when we explored the Mt. Sanitas trail on Open Space just west of North Boulder, giant ruts had rendered the main trail unpassable, and long-familiar landscapes had been resculpted by the water almost beyond recognition (see attached video). Throughout North Boulder, the extent of damage seemed determined by location and terrain, with the downward-flowing water making the decisions.
When I finally went to bed Thursday night and closed my eyes, I could see only images of rushing water. In the ensuing days, the sound of falling rain, which I have always found soothing, now seems fearsome. When will it start up again? How hard will it rain? How long it will last?
This is just one small story among thousands. The big picture and a lot of touching individual stories have been very well portrayed in local media, including some very good local TV coverage. NPR had a great sound piece, and a The New York Timesaccount helped tell our story to the nation.
Is it too early for some big lessons to be learned here? Well, you’ve gotta think hard about the role of climate change.
And you’ve gotta wonder about some personal ironies. Here we thought that living in our house at the very, utmost, extreme, literal edge of the Rocky Mountains — where plains that begin somewhere west of Chicago give way to the start of towering mountains right across the street — was such a great blessing.
PERFECT DAY:Boulder’s heat wave made for a perfect first trip of the season to Brainard Lake and (pictured here) Lake Isabelle. (Reporter photo)
Our first trip to Brainard Lake Thursday, June 27, was a smashing success. The whole area was dazzlingly gorgeous under a deep blue sky. Huge changes have been made — in particular, the road that ran north of Brainard Lake and up to the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trainheads is being rerouted so the area east and north of Brainard is now traffic-free, a nice improvement.
There are many other changes, too (new structures and parking lots, and the new Gateway Trailhead about two miles east of the Brainard Lake complex). The new road to the two upper trailheads is being rerouted to south of Brainard Lake. Since that road won’t be open until mid-July, we parked east of Brainard and hiked all the way (well, “all the way” for me) up to Lake Isabelle, which was filled up and boisterously overflowing into its two beautiful waterfalls. It still had snow-capped ice floes in the middle of the lake (probably not for long).
Get up there…it’s gorgeous! And (for you newbies) it’s only 45 minutes’ drive from Boulder.
Quite possibly the best single source for breaking environmental news and analysis is Eco-Watch. One story with a poignant local angle is this one telling about how scarce water in drought-ridden areas, including Colorado, is being grabbed up by (you guessed it) frackers. A Colorado farmer laments:
“There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas. And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are.”
You can sign up for e-mail updates of Eco-Watch’s best and latest content (see box at top-right of their front page). I know, you’re wary of more e-mail. But I’ve found this one is worth it.
The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick said it so well recently:
The future of writing in America — or at least, the future of making a living by writing — seems in doubt as rarely before. Thanks to the Internet, the disproportion between writerly supply and demand, always tricky, has tipped: anyone can write, and everyone does, and the beginners are expected to be the last pure philanthropists, giving it all away for the naches [Yiddish: emotional gratification or pride --Ed.]. It has never been easier to be a writer; and it has never been harder to be a professional writer. The strange anatomy of the new literary manners has yet to be anatomized: the vast school of tweets feeding on the giant whales of a few big books, the literary ecology of the very big, the very small, and the sudden vertiginous whoosh; the blog that becomes a book; the writer torn to pieces by his former Internet fans, which makes one the other. … The same forces that have hampered writing as a profession have empowered reading as a pastime: everything ever written, it seems, is now easily available to be read, and everything is.
A Boulder “angle” to this story? People here, as everywhere, are showered with a seemingly limitless supply of excellent “content,” should they just bother to lift a finger toward their iPads or Kindles. The bare-bones Daily Camera seems to satisfy most people’s appetite for, and time for, local news. KGNU’s Morning Magazine, The Blue Line, Boulder Weekly and Boulder Magazine all contribute significant local coverage. Any possible business model for someone to do additional local reporting certainly eludes me. Boulder Reporter will linger on, as a place to air grudges, kudos, and maybe (at times, out of sheer perversity and force of habit) hard-news reporting.