A Post-Flood Race To Re-Channel Left Hand Creek
In Colorado, farmers are scrambling to recover from September’s flooding. The waters decimated miles of roadway, cut off entire towns and moved rivers. Now there’s a race against time to put these rivers back in their original place before planting season begins.
The Left Hand Creek is one of those rivers that charted new territory. Some of that newly claimed ground happened to be across Tim Foster’s immaculate front yard. “I had four large blue spruces; we had hundred year old cotton woods all along the bank… it was just gorgeous,” Foster said.
It was all washed away at the height of the flooding along Left Hand Creek, just 200 yards from Foster’s yard. The creek became a raging river right along the driveway of his home outside of Boulder.
“The river was flowing right here. And it was all dry over there, because once the water had subsided, this was the new channel,” said Foster.
The raging floodwater brought massive amounts of debris, rocks and trees from the foothills. In turn, the detritus became massive debris balls which dammed up Left Hand Creek and forced it away from the Left Hand Ditch Company’s diversion structures and canals. Now those structures, which supply irrigation water for farms miles away, are clogged with mud, debris, and stagnant water.
The re-channeling work comes with a cost. For the Left Hand Ditch Company alone it could cost well over $3 million. Bob Crifasi, a consultant for the company, says there’s little if any federal financial assistance from FEMA or the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to help.
“They’re not stepping up, or they do not have the authority to provide resources for moving the creek,” said Crifasi. “When I spoke to them and said that, asked them, ‘do you have the ability to help a company like Left Hand?’ They said, ‘well we don’t do that.’”
Kevin Houck, chief of the Watershed and Flood Protection section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board says many people think the federal government will play a large role in re-channeling the rivers.
“I think that is a misconception that is out there in a lot of places which is, the state or the federal governments are going to come in and fix everything here, and for the most part that’s not really going to be the case,” Houck said. “The Army Corps of Engineers certainly deals with rivers throughout the county as part of their mission, but again they don’t necessarily have the funding in this particular case and they certainly don’t have the authority to just come in and make whole sale changes without private property approval.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has stepped in with emergency loans to help irrigation providers like the Left Hand Ditch Company. That’s going to help homeowner Tim Foster move the river out of his yard.
Foster says it’s imperative that repairs and re-channeling happen in the creek within the next four-to-five months before the water starts rising once again due to Colorado’s annual spring snow melt.
“In the run-off in May and June it’ll get quite high again…and then it’s probably twice this depth in the summer,” Foster said.
More than that, if the ditch company’s projects aren’t completed before then, farmers won’t have vital water when planting season starts in April.
Aerial tour of the flood damage in Lefthand Canyon, courtesy of KMGH, Sept. 19, 2013.