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Record CO Snowpack Increases Risk of River Flooding

June 20, 2011

DENVER - Colorado's record snow pack is slowly melting as summer comes, putting the state on alert for possible major flooding later this year. State water managers are keeping an eye on the rivers and preparing for possible overflows.

Jessica Ludy, associate director of the organization American Rivers, says the high water dangers underscore the important role healthy rivers play in flood protection, and that policymakers should take notice.

"We can't extend the floodway this year, but if we can give rivers below dams also more room, then dam operators can more safely release water during flood times."

Ludy says we need to make "room for the rivers" and invest in more flood plain restoration and flood bypasses. As of Sunday, Colorado's snowpack was more than 300 percent higher than normal for this time of year.

Tom Browning, chief of watershed and flood protection for the state of Colorado, says the state's most devastating floods historically have been from flash flood events caused by torrential rainstorms in late spring or early summer. But the slower flooding caused by snow melt can also pose problems, including washed-out roads, bridges and trails, clogged streams and culverts, or standing water in parks and backyards.

"Snow melt flooding is a little bit more predictable. It tends to be better behaved. We don't see entire communities being washed downstream. That's just not the type of situation that this would bring."

Jessica Ludy says Colorado leaders should take lessons from the record floods on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

"If we take advantage of our limited opportunities for creating spillways through a flood bypass and giving rivers more room, then we can also protect our cities, our jobs, our industry, and so on."

She would like to see an emphasis on expanding floodways by setting back levees to give the rivers more room to spread out.

More information is at

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO