September 12 is the 5-year anniversary of the 2013 flood and the resulting devastation to people and property in developed areas of its path. Open spaces and agriculture areas were much less affected much than the homes and businesses. Those impacts are immeasurable. Recovery on Longmont’s infrastructure continues with costs exceeding $150 million. Another $60 million is needed to complete projects west of Sunset Street. City staff and contractors have worked hard to restore our St. Vrain Greenway and try to improve the channel to protect people, property and infrastructure from future flooding.
But is this possible??
According to the Army Corps of Engineers there have been 11 floods along this corridor in the last 142 years. Experts on climate change, and common sense tell us we can expect more frequent damaging flood events in the future. Perhaps rivers are perfectly predictable but only on time scales that are a little beyond the grasp of most planners and developers. River valleys tell us clearly where the river was in the past and where it will go in the future but some people don’t like the message… Much as we might like to, we can’t mitigate Mother Nature.
The city has a “Blueprint for Development” begun prior to the 2013 flood with designs for very extensive development along this corridor. There are 800+ acres of private-owned property that were previously in the flood plain and therefore, undevelopable. Now, due to massive publicly-funded mitigation efforts with new parameters of the flood plain, these properties are developable and their value has skyrocketed. Their owners are anxious to start developing and making money.
BUT does more development along our St. Vrain even make sense? Perhaps, but only if considerably set back from the banks of the creek. This not only protects people and property, but also the riparian health of the creek. Eighty-ninety percent of all wildlife is dependent on riparian habitat for survival.
Our 2013 flood was a wake up call. Five years later, it appears we may go back to sleep unless we limit future new or re-development along this corridor. It’s the responsible thing to do logically, morally, environmentally and fiscally.