During the second week of September 2013, Colorado’s Front Range was ravaged by the most severe flooding in living memory. I took this photo on Saturday, September 14, shortly after the floodwaters had receded from their peak on Left Hand Creek. Upstream from here, the town of Jamestown was devastated and most homes along the creek were destroyed or flooded. Even though the storm waters had exited the narrow canyons to the west, the force of the flow systematically destroyed or severely damaged most of the irrigation diversions that serve the northern part of Boulder County. This image shows the Left Hand Valley Reservoir Inlet Canal diversion and appears in my forthcoming book, A Land Made from Water. Here the diversion dam was partly damaged and the entire structure filled with sediment and debris, and although the floodwaters were still raging, Left Hand Creek itself had migrated north and entirely out of site from the structure and this photo. The boulders in the forefront of the image were not there just three days before. Notice how the metal headgates in the upper left of the photo are wrapped in debris. I was at the site, helping the ditch company personnel begin the daunting task of estimating the extent of the damage when I took this shot. This site alone wound up costing the ditch company tens of thousands of dollars to repair.
Standing by the creek and seeing firsthand the magnitude of what was unfolding, I realized that I was watching a historic event. By the time the storm hit I had mostly completed my manuscript, but I had not written anything about the periodic floods that strike this region. I was aware of this shortcoming and remained unsatisfied with my attempts to integrate this important aspect of water into my book. Although this was an unmitigated tragedy for many, the storm afforded me the opportunity to integrate my thoughts about flooding and describe my own experiences in a way that made a fitting coda to the book.
A Land Made from Water chronicles how the appropriation and development of water and riparian resources have changed the face of Colorado’s High Plains. As the book describes—and the 2013 flooding underscores—human action and environmental change are inextricably entwined and intermingled in surprising ways.
Robert R. Crifasi works in water management and planning and is an environmental scientist with more than twenty-five years of experience. He has served as the Water Resources Administrator for the City of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks Department, was on the board of directors of eleven ditch companies, and as the president of several Boulder Valley ditches, was responsible for supervising all regular ditch operations.