SpiroFlo looks at the how much impact the 2013 Colorado flood had on drought levels in the area.
It’s a bit of a strange time in Colorado. We were supposed to have the two driest years on record, Denver Water was enforcing water restrictions for the stage-two drought, and there were record-breaking highs over the summer.
And then it rained. A lot. As in a whole year’s worth in one week a lot.
Schools shut down; homes and businesses flooded out. It became easier to take a canoe around certain towns and people had to call and ask, likely for the first time, “Do I have flood insurance?” Odds are most did not, as insurance companies aren’t even allowed to provide flood insurance to places that aren’t normally at risk of flooding—you know, like a land-locked state that was about 14 years into its latest drought.
The hard numbers (as of today): 19,000 homes damaged (1,500 destroyed), 11,000 people evacuated, six confirmed dead, and 500 still unaccounted for (though not necessarily considered missing). If it were a snow storm, it would’ve been a 15-foot event (and I’ve seen this state shut down and struggle with three).
So what happened? While I’m sure there was the occasional climate Nostradamus who saw it coming, there wasn’t a widely noted, credible source that figured a thousand-year flood would bust on into this year. I’ve seen a couple of recent articles debunking climate change (again) and there will likely be a swift series of rebuttals again (again), but regardless of what some on both sides want you to believe, the evidence for or against climate change is not so open and shut (though the phrase ‘global warming’ has fallen out of favor).
Still, I’m not sure what to think here. Can you argue that the heavy drought and the heavy rainfall both come from climate change? I’m sure some will, whereas others will likely focus on an anomaly like a thousand-year flood being just that—a data point not normally found on the chart. Does it make it less valid—I mean, we apparently have a term for it because it’s happened before—or simply far more limited in relevance?
Here’s something to think about: It’s been so dry that the Colorado River hasn’t reached the ocean in years. Lakes Mead and Powell—they’ve been at half-capacity for a long while, 100 feet below what they should be (thanks to a dry period from 2000-2009 and drought issues stemming back to the eighties). The lakes have mostly sat below the drought line and are continuing to etch closer to the critical shortage line with our growing population consuming water at a rate that will exhaust the reserves. This critical shortage is that line where hydropower falls apart and they stop giving water to states like Nevada.
Oh yeah, this critical shortage is scheduled for 2020—less than seven years from now.
Surely the flood must have helped there, right? Want to place your bets on how many feet the flood restored to that 100-foot drop?
Here’s the thing: simply because we had a flood, that doesn’t mean the water went in the right area. It’s not as if Colorado is a glass that water has slowly been evaporating out of for years and then someone casually came and filled it back up. This rainfall was more like a toddler trying to aim a wild fire hose. Even if the water was in the general area, that doesn’t mean it was going where it should, and the consensus is that the rain fell on the wrong side of the Rockies. Even when it did fall on the right areas, it was too much, and everything was essentially on drain mode to prevent flood damage.
So two of 100 feet have been restored. That means it’d have to flood like this for nearly a year to restore the drought loss to Lakes Mead and Powell. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but you can’t restore decades’ worth of damage from one mad week of rain (and one big snow season won’t help either). This would mean anomalies like this thousand-year flood do get to stand as is, because they’re overwhelmed by all the dry years that leave us still facing that critical shortage in 2020. You can predict critical shortage dates for other parts of the world, too, but it’s the same story—with our growing population, we’re consuming water at a rate that will exhaust the reserves.
This means that my interest in what’s to blame—climate change damage or not—is vastly overshadowed by the reality that this water crisis (which is still far undervalued) is not our grandchildren’s problem, but ours.
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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:
-SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.
-Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).
-Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).