Wake Of The Flood

Big Thompson Destruction

A curve on Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon gives a glimpse of the devastation from the September 2013 flood.

With so much devastation in the wake of our historic 1,000 year flood event in September, there are still many closed roads, standing water, and Front Range canyons are shut off, isolating rural communities. Fortunately, I was able to fly with LightHawk pilot John Feagin on September 30 to see first hand the scale of the flood around Greeley and the lower Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. Two weeks later, and after the news organizations have moved on, Colorado has a very long way to go as we recover. These images support the Platte Basin Timelapse story of a river that matters far beyond our relatively small geographic area.

Flooded Big Thompson Canyon Mouth

At the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, the Big Thompson River washed away Highway 34 and historic Sylvan Dale Ranch. Sylvan Dale has already announced plans to rebuild.

Demolished Highway 34

A long stretch of Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon was completely demolished by floodwaters.

Flooded Oil Rig

Over 1,900 oil wells in the South Platte Basin were shut down as floodwaters rose. There were at least eleven oil spills in the South Platte River, a critical freshwater source for the Ogallala Aquifer and Great Plains agriculture. Is it appropriate to drill in a floodplain?

Flooded Drillpad

This oil pad is still trapped in mud two weeks after the flood reached its peak. Ironically, the driver of the truck that’s stuck in mud up to its axles (lower left side) is standing with his hands on his hips.

Tipped Oil Tank In Floodplain

A tipped-over oil tank that succumbed to floodwaters near Greeley, CO.

Greeley Feedlot

This feedlot near Greeley still has some standing water two weeks after the flood peaked, and certainly contributed agricultural waste to the South Platte River. As we assess damage, it’s important to question what industries are appropriate in a critical freshwater floodplain.

5 thoughts on “Wake Of The Flood

  1. This flood, although devistating, raises many questions about community planning and acceptable risk. With only a limited period of historical records (~100 years) we are only beginning to learn the variability of our environment. Humans are are flexible; we can endure, adapt, and recover from extremes very well. We should not allow our durability to be a weakness by refusing to learn.

    1. Thank you, Scott for your thoughtful and insightful comment. I’d add that although humans may be adaptable, there are limits if we poison and exhaust our precious freshwater. And an update: Over 60,000 gallons of crude oil and petrochemical waste spilled into the South Platte River – is it a result of the flood or that drilling is happening right next to the river channel in the floodplain?

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the photos. There are many issues that these events raise. Like the risk of fire and flood as more people decide to live in the canyon regions. The photo of Sylvan Dale were especially poignant. I worked in the area in ’76 shoveling muck and later rebuilding homes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *