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Beating The Odds, Left Hand Ditch Company Recovers After Floods

Colorado's historic flood left a significant number of dams and diversion structures damaged on Left Hand Creek in Boulder County - many belonged to the Left Hand Ditch Company. Six months later, the company's critical restoration projects are 80 percent complete and over $1 million under budget.

Once the floodwaters receded, Left Hand Ditch Company engineers found that Left Hand Creek had to be re-channeled to its original course and through over a mile combined of critical diversion structures and head gates. Some sections of the company’s systems were completely destroyed. When applying for emergency loans from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the company estimated the cost to repair the damage would be $3.2 million.

Left Hand Ditch Vice President Terry Plummer says critical infrastructure will be ready April 1 for the official start of planting season and under that repair estimate.

The key to meeting their ambitious goal was starting early.

"Right in the midst of the storm we started hiring consultants and engineers and contractors and securing concrete companies and engineers,” Plummer said. “We locked them all down and employed them during the storm and said, 'You now work for me as much as possible, and we will keep you busy.' ”

Without critical repairs to the company’s infrastructure, approximately 15,000 acres of irrigated farm land in Boulder County and the company’s five reservoirs would have been left high and dry. One of those reservoirs provides water for residential use in the Left Hand Water District.

The task to re-channel the creek wasn’t easy. Through days of heavy rain, raging floodwaters brought tons of debris hurtling down the creek and deposited them across a wide swath of the banks.

Credit Google Maps
Once flood waters receded, engineers faced tons of sand, boulders, and debris which washed out of the foothills during the heavy rainfall - as seen here in this screencap from Google Maps.

Excavators, in essence, had to contend with an alluvial fan. Massive amounts of sand and boulders littered the ground covering once fertile farm land and forest floor.

Six months later, if you had never known the flood had occurred; you’d be hard pressed to see that the creek had ever jumped its banks in some areas. Besides fewer trees and vegetation, workers have cleared the debris and laid fresh top soil across a sandy base near the company's Left Hand Valley Diversion, and the creek is back to its original course through nearly all of the important head gates and diversion structures.

Contractors remain slammed with reconstruction work, finishing up critical repairs and preparing for the possibility of a higher then average snow run-off says Doug Lyle, owner of Left Hand Excavation.

“Oh there’s many, many projects already lined up for the rest of the year,” said Lyle. “Between the high flow coming, well, regular stream flow you might say, hopefully it doesn’t get too high. We’ll come back in and address any areas where trees are down or any of the ditch stuff that where we can’t get water through, so we’ll be constantly watching it…”

The potential for a high spring run-off is also a concern for resident Tim Foster. The end of his driveway in unincorporated Longmont became the new edge of Left Hand Creek during the flooding.

Credit Jim Hill / KUNC
Tim Foster, a resident who lives along Left Hand Creek in unincorporated Longmont, Colo.

“And now we’re trying to get the land and the creek bank on Left Hand Creek stabilized before the spring run-off and we know it’s gonna be a big spring runoff," said Foster. "And the grounds’ saturated so we just want to be fully prepared not to lose this bank again.”

To that end, Foster is scrambling to armor the side of the creek next to his house with large boulders, some six to seven feet in diameter.

Left Hand Ditch Company’s Terry Plummer is also concerned about the months ahead. Not so much from a rise in the creek, but an increase in sand.

"Part of that is wash out, part of that is crews working up stream, digging it all up," said Plummer. "So we just said we’ll wait till just before the season opens and go in and clean up everything."

It also means digging out every one of their ditches at least once a month for the foreseeable future. However, Plummer is confident that all essential infrastructure will be ready before April 1 and will hold if spring runoff runs high.

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