I went to Colorado in July, and it was bone dry like I noted in a prior blog. The trend was expected to continue, but then something happened. It rained. A lot. It’s been raining for almost a month. Last week it was wet out there, really wet, devastatingly wet on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (Boulder, Estes Park, Longmont, Lyons). The rain has not really let up so mountain streams are over-running their banks, flooding streets, washing away bridges, damaging property and businesses. Helicopter evaluation of the damage indicates that miles of roadways are badly damaged. Route 34/36, the primary eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park may have 17 miles (of 20) damage pavement and foundation needing immediate repair. Estes Park is cut off from the world and there was mud in the streets. Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to allow access from Grand Lake for emergency vehicles, residents and supplies. And eastern emergency route from Nederland is also available. Tourism has halted in the peak of Fall tourist season.
How fortunes have changed, and continue to change. Three years ago it was the west side of Colorado with 300 inches of snow that flooded downstream communities. Three months ago was drought. Are these changes part of a larger issue, or a continuation of the status quo? Hard to know, but certainly both events were far above any prior events experienced in the area. The local infrastructure was not constructed to meet these conditions, so either the climate is changing, our models are wrong, or both. We see the same issue playing out regularly around the world when the 100 year or 500 year storm event occurs and wreaks havoc on a community which does not have infrastructure planned for events like this.
Expect NE Colorado to be a federal disaster area. Expect billions to be spent on reconstruction of roadways. But the larger question is whether the new, replacement infrastructure will survive a similar, or larger climate event in the future. Will our infrastructure planning be short sighted or will it be adjusted accordingly? The potential for us to protect infrastructure, and property is completely related to our ability to adjust to infrastructure needs and to minimize exposure to weather events. Keep in mind our economy and way of life is directly related to our infrastructure condition. But people want to live near rivers and streams, but rarely consider the real risk and consequences.
How do we address these risks? FEMA evaluates the probability of flooding to set flood insurance, but FEMA does not prevent construction in flood zones. Where construction can occur is a state or local issue. Of course, few local entities want to limit development in any way, so we keep putting people at risk. Local officials, like those in Florida, keep pushing FEMA officials to reduce flood risks, despite evidence of increasing rainfall intensity that would increase flooding. Florida is not alone. No doubt Colorado officials have the same views. We need to impress upon local officials the risks and encourage them to reduce risks to citizens. It’s our tax money and insurance premiums they are raising. But they are rarely held accountable. Nor are non-elected officials. Somehow, this needs to change. We need leaders to stand up and draw the line in the sand.