Big Thompson River

KUNC

Work has begun in northern Colorado on a $4 million project to improve the habitat in and around the Big Thompson River and make the waterway itself more resilient to flooding.

The project is being done on a stretch of river in west Loveland where floods in 2013 caused damage.

Matt Bloom/KUNC

When Nancy and Steven Innis built their new home in Greeley, they equipped it with the latest in water conservation tech.

The automatic kitchen faucet shuts off with the wave of a hand. A drip irrigation system keeps yard plants hydrated without the wasteful runoff. Hi-tech toilets save water with different settings for big and small flushes.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

An old water cliché tells us that “water flows uphill toward money.” It’s an adage born out of people’s frustrations about who benefits when water moves around in the Western U.S., popularized by author Marc Reisner’s 1986 book, “Cadillac Desert.”

Like all persistent folksy sayings, it’s a mix of myth and truth.

But there’s at least one case where it has some validity: the phenomenon known as “buy and dry” along Colorado’s fast-growing, historically agricultural Front Range.

Cassandra Turner / Creative Commons

The price of water within northern Colorado’s largest reservoir system is the highest it’s ever been.

Units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) project have sold for $30,000 and higher in 2018, a new benchmark for the water supply project that began operations in 1957.

“We’ve roughly doubled in the last five years in terms of that cost,” says Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water, which oversees the CBT project. “It’s the development going on; it’s the competition for water supply.”

Colorado's History Of July Floods Isn't A Coincidence

Jul 24, 2017
Courtesy of Jason Pohl/The Coloradoan

The last week of July has seen two of the most severe floods in Colorado’s history - and that’s not a coincidence.

Both floods began at night and both had devastating consequences. On July 28, 1997, the heaviest rain ever recorded in an urban area of the state caused millions of dollars of damage to areas of Fort Collins and killed five people. What became known as the Spring Creek Flood came two days short of the anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976, when at least 12 inches of rain fell over four hours in the mountains below Estes Park. In the subsequent flooding 143 people died.

Grace Hood / KUNC

In September 2013 torrential rain caused a swollen Big Thompson River to tear away -- and in some places completely destroy -- parts of U.S. Highway 34.

Temporary repairs reopened the road by December, but permanent repairs didn’t start until October 2016. 

Since then, hundreds of tons of rock have been blasted from the canyon walls, prompting the closure of a three mile stretch of the canyon. The road will reopen in late May 2017.

About three years ago, flood waters rushed down the Big Thompson River through Estes Park and eastward to Loveland, destroying whole stretches of the river channel and adjoining roads. That flood echoed a similar one 40 years ago that killed 144 people, destroyed countless homes and decimated the riverbed. Now, roads are being repaired and the eco-system is slowly recovering. That recovery is crucial for the economy of local communities.

Town of Estes Park

If you visit Estes Park, you’re part of the problem.

The town is grappling with increasing tourist traffic and parking problems, which have only gotten worse as Estes Park’s popularity has grown. Throw in 3 million annual visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park and a roadway that wasn’t designed to handle the congestion and you’ve got a big headache.

But how to fix it?

DVIDSHUB / Creative Commons

On the heels of a story published in the Coloradoan linking declining trout populations to road reconstruction after the 2013 floods, the Colorado Department of Transportation said it did not disregard the impact that repairs have on the natural environment, and the trout population.

V. Richard Haro / The Coloradoan

Colorado officials scrambled to reconnect dozens of destroyed roadways after September's 2013 floods — most notably U.S. Highways 34, 36 and Colorado State Highway 7. That rush to reconstruct had a price, according to a new article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan: Thousands of trout have left the St. Vrain, South St. Vrain the Big Thompson rivers.

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