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Experts Come to CO to Talk Watershed Restoration, Climate Change

Engineers restoring some areas impacted by extreme flooding are deploying four-stage channel designs that emulate river systems to naturally accommodate water flows during drought and 100-year floods. (FEMA)
Engineers restoring some areas impacted by extreme flooding are deploying four-stage channel designs that emulate river systems to naturally accommodate water flows during drought and 100-year floods. (FEMA)
June 14, 2019

ESTES PARK, Colo. – The Rocky Mountain Stream Restoration Conference comes to Estes Park next week, bringing watershed experts and engineers to the state.

Russ Schumacher – associate professor and Colorado State University's climatologist – says it's an opportunity for policymakers to look at a host of challenges facing the Intermountain West, such as extreme weather events like the Big Thompson and 2013 floods in Lyons and Boulder.

Schumacher says mitigating flash floods is especially important along the Front Range, where moisture from the Gulf of Mexico pours down through steep canyons.

"Clearly extreme precipitation and flooding has always happened, but there's also kind of growing evidence that the warming climate and more moisture in the atmosphere is leading to more extreme precipitation," says Schumacher.

He says hotter and more destructive wildfires also need to be addressed. Burn scars don't absorb water, so heavy rains can send crippling debris flows into streams, affecting fish habitat and drinking water.

He adds while population growth and development in flood plains have put structures and people at risk, cities and counties can restore flows in ways that limit flood damage and even capture water for drier days.

Dave Rosgen, the owner of Wildland Hydrology, speaks on Tuesday about natural channel design, which he describes as a four-stage approach that emulates stable waterways to accommodate water needs during drought as well as 100-year floods.

He says streams can be stabilized, for example, by adding willows and cottonwoods, which send their roots into wood workers sink into the riverbanks.

"Very natural and aesthetically pleasing, as opposed to hard control with high walls of concrete,” says Rosgen. “And the use of 'toe wood' is really helpful for not only reducing bank erosion, but really helps for fish habitat."

Rosgen adds natural channel design costs about ten cents on the dollar compared with hard-control designs that he says end up being temporary after the next 100-year storm.

The conference, organized by Resource Institute, starts Tuesday, June 18, at the Stanley Hotel. Information is online at 'RockyMountainStream.org.'

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO