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The Great Flood

we're still discovering how big a catastrophe this has been

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 18, 2013.

Last Thursday, September 12th, I could easily see that the normally lizard lethargic nearby Goose Creek was about eight feet higher than normal and broader and literally roaring. When I wandered out to the Folsom St. bridge the next day, it looked even higher and all the green growth was hidden, lying flat all the way to the east. These small strips of wetlands are the home to at least one rare otter and other animals, and I hope they're back soon. If not, they'd be the most important life loss of Boulder's Great Flood. No city folk are currently known lost.

Last week, Boulder got over a year's normal allotment of precipitation, well over 20 inches of rain. At City Council last night, Police Chief Beckner put things in perspective. Whereas on Monday, September 9, the flow in carefully monitored Boulder Creek was 54 cubic feet a second, by 1AM on Thursday it was more than 3000 cfs. On Thursday night while I was peering out at Goose Creek, Boulder Creek in the center of town was running at 5000cfs, and I'll assume Goose Creek was in that neighborhood as well. That's 100 times the normal.

It was prime time on television, and since ABC had no popular show on, it's local affiliate, Channel 7 in Denver, devoted itself to flood coverage. Its reporter was articulate and enthused and totally unfamiliar with Boulder. He was stationed at the Creekside restaurant on Broadway that was Yokum's and the First Wok in various previous incarnations across from municipal buildings between Arapaho and Canyon. The camera clearly showed the water up to near bridge level, about ten feet higher than normal, and what was normally placid Central Park was now white water, and Canyon Blvd. had reverted to its elder name, Water St., and was flooded to near mid calf. That sounds trivial, but a half foot of water traveling that fast can overturn NFL linemen, and once down people cannot get up, and get rolled in the flood. And there is nothing to be done. It happens fast.

But Boulder had been on its toes and the populace obeyed official suggestions and commands and we lost no people that we know of yet, at least in the city itself. That's well nigh amazing, given the creek is a popular camp site for the homeless and young traveling through and there is no denying that this is a major disaster. I walked down to the Library which arches over the Creek to see how it fared. It was there, which was more than I expected, but closed and I don't know what internal damage there was. Nor to the Justice Center, further upstream.

However bad it was, there is no doubt that things could have been a hell of a lot worse. Mountain communities like Jamestown were ground up by typically insufficient mountain life construction and narrow, steep canyons that provided terrifying flooding and essentially destroyed the town. Smaller hamlets like Salina are, for all intents, gone. From Lyons south to Golden, there are no open roads into the mountains. They're not closed just because of landslides and detritus that can be shoveled off. The roads themselves are gone for long stretches.

This includes Boulder Canyon, and to get to Nederland, normally a scenic jaunt from Boulder, takes hours now. Apparently, Nederland and Estes Park can only be reached by going through Black Hawk, and this assumes the narrow tunnels and roads of Rt. 6 from I-70 are clear and stay clear. Every canyon on the east slope is primed and ready for avalanche of dirt and large boulders. This is major catastrophe, and the implications are just beginning to sink in. All the towns and rural homes accessed from the Peak to Peak Highway are dependent upon what will be emergency deliveries of food and product, probably through the winter and maybe long after, depending upon weather.

While Boulder itself looks comparatively good, all considered, there are square miles of flooded homes and housing not only in Longmont, but in Greeley and in Ft. Collins. That strikes me as bad planning by those cities, given their experiences with recent floods.

To a degree, the City of Boulder lucked out, but to a higher degree it had prepared for this, and the City deserves kudos. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, few did, and that is nearly remarkable given what roared through and the desolation of other communities. Thanks be we're all still here to argue about it.