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Mar 10 2014

A Few Good Reads (3/10/14): Colorado’s Snowpack Grows and the Response to the 2013 Floods Continues

This week: The snowpack in the South Platte River basin keeps going up, delayed repairs on a damaged bridge on the St. Vrain Creek due to the presence of some eagles, an intriguing video on how wolves impact rivers, an ecological perspective on the 2013 Colorado floods, Christchurch, New Zealand receives a month of rain in a day, and looking at Dutch flood control in light of the recent devastating floods in the U.K.The snowpack for Colorado keeps climbing and we have not even reached March and April (and the beginning of May!) when we made up half our snowpack in Northern Colorado last year. The Big Thompson (flooded in September of last year) watershed snowpack is up to nearly 150% of average and one snowpack site for the St. Vrain Creek basin (also flooded last year) is at nearly 200% of average! It’s snowing again here in Fort Collins even I write this…

Snowpack news (% of avg): The Upper Rio Grande basin climbs to 90% #COdrought (Coyote Gulch)

All Colorado River basins are reporting above average snowpack, except for southwestern Colorado which is 5 to 15 percent below average. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: Colorado River Basin 137 percent; Gunnison River Basin, 114 percent; South Platte River Basin,145 percent; Yampa and White River Basins, 122 percent; Arkansas River Basin, 103 percent; Upper Rio Grande Basin, 85 percent; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins 95 percent; and the Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 132 percent of average for this time of year.

This flood damage site on the St. Vrain Creek was actually one that I visited. The bridge was flanked and washed clean behind both its south and north abutments. The river actually broke out south of the main channel and created a new side channel through gravel pits and other ponds that doesn’t rejoin the main channel until the confluence with Boulder Creek. The new low flow channel is actually flowing south of the south abutment where it was flanked!

Eagles on St. Vrain Creek put flood repairs on bridge on hold

This story isn’t about which comes first, the eagles or the eggs, but it is about how eagles making eggs come before fixing the bridge which was washed out during the September Floods.

“We were slated to begin fixing the road and putting in a new bridge as soon as weather allowed,” said Kristine Obendorf with Boulder Transportation.

“But state and federal regulations related to Bald Eagles prohibit any human encroachment within a ½ mile radius between October 15 through July 31, meaning we won’t be able to begin construction until August 1.”

This is a great little video (shared via LinkedIn by @Fluvialdesign) that talks about the impact reintroducing wolves has had in Yellowstone Park even getting to how the wolves have indirectly impacted the rivers and streams.

  

Here’s a good article looking at the 2013 Colorado flooding from an ecological perspective.

2013 Front Range Flooding: An Ecological Perspective (Earth Magazine)

In the long run, the flooding is likely to benefit many native wildlife species. Ecologists consider periodic scouring floods essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem along the vital Front Range drainages. Like after a large wildfire, which the area has also recently experienced, the ecosystem has the ability over the long term to rebound “beyond what it was before,” Swanson says, “so many species actually benefit following a disturbance.” In the short run, however, the flooding caused some mortality.

A Month’s Rain in 24 Hours Floods Christchurch (FloodList)

Storms, gale force winds and heavy rainfall left areas of Christchurch, New Zealand, under water yesterday Tuesday 4 March 2014. The storm affected areas along New Zealand’s eastern coast from Canterbury to Wellington and Wairarapa. Sugarloaf on top of the Port Hills was battered by 160 kmh winds, while 10 metre high waves battered the Canterbury coastline.

The storm has been described as a once in 100 years event. Christchurch hasn’t seen this much rainfall in a 24 hour period since 1975. As much as 160mm of rain fell on Lyttelton in just 24 hours.

This article is actually not simply about the “Room for the River” approach to flood control that the Dutch are employing that we have talked about before but actually comparing the flood control situation for the U.K. to the Holland’s situation. He delves into some history and what the U.K. could learn in dealing with the aftermath of their recent flooding.

Room for the River – Dutch flood control

The recent storm surge on the East Coast of the UK, accompanied by dramatic pictures of the tidal barrier on the River Hull nearly overtopping were compared to the most devastating storm surge of recent times, that of 31st January 1953. In Holland this same storm surge is called simply “Watersnoodramp” (The flood disaster); whilst 326 died in the UK, 2551 people lost their lives in Holland. This disaster led to an overhauling of the Dutch approach to flood defence including the construction of the iconic Maeslant barrier (pictured above).

It is this image of the Netherlands as a nation with impregnable hard engineered flood defences and water management that make sure water goes where it is supposed to and does what it’s told that people have in mind when they advocate learning lessons from Holland or getting Dutch flood defence expertise into the UK. However this image is out-dated. For over ten years the Dutch have been embracing a new approach to flood risk management marrying the best of their engineering expertise with more flexible management of flood waters.

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