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2013 Northern Colorado flood

Date: May 07, 2015

Understanding the spatial distribution of flood effects and recovery patterns in National Forest streams impacted by the flood


The 2013 Northern Colorado flood caused major damage on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.
The 2013 Northern Colorado flood caused major damage on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.
In September 2013, the Colorado Front Range underwent catastrophic flooding during a week-long rain event when 8 to 18 inches of rain fell over the mountain front and neighboring plains. The flood caused considerable damage to property and infrastructure over 1150 square miles, including substantial portions of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.

Hundreds of landslides initiated on steep hillslopes during this event and delivered copious volumes of sediment to adjacent streams. Channels widened, entrenched, relocated, and aggraded in response to high discharges and new sediment loads.

Research on the type and degree of geomorphic changes to streams on National Forest System lands and patterns of recovery in these landscapes has been initiated. One research question looks at geomorphic and aquatic recovery patterns in channels that are “restored” following the flood (that is, channels were reformed or relocated, large wood removed, addition of rip-rap, etc.) differ from channels that are left largely to natural processes.

Management Implications

  • National Forests and surrounding lands are dynamic, hazard-prone natural landscapes; community residents and policy makers should understand the risks inherent to people living and recreating in these landscapes.

  • Recovery on National Forests will look different from, and occur on different timescales than, recovery along highways and in communities. The Forest Service strives to take a balanced and thoughtful approach to restoring the landscape that is rooted in the Multiple-Use mandate; therefore, recovery may include elements of both rebuilding infrastructure and promoting ecological resilience.

  • It will be important for both communities and the Forest Service to continue dialogue over time, communicating both about the impacts and effects likely to be felt years into the future, as well as the choices that society has for reducing future vulnerability to natural disasters.

For more information, read the Science You Can Use Bulletin Our Relationship with a Dynamic Landscape: Understanding the 2013 Northern Colorado Flood.

Featured Publications

Hines, Sarah ; Brenkert-Smith, Hannah ; Champ, Patricia A. ; Joyce, Linda A. ; Robichaud, Pete R. ; Ryan-Burkett, Sandra E. , 2014


Principal Investigators - External: 
Jeff Lukas - Western Water Assessment
Forest Service Partners: 
Numerous employees with the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland:
Glenn Casamassa, Forest Supervisor
Sylvia Clark, Boulder District Ranger
Kevin Atchley, Canyon Lakes District Ranger
Lori Bell, Pawnee District Ranger & Flood Recovery Team Leader
Mike Johnson, Flood Recovery Team Realty Specialist
Mark Martin, Acting Ecosystem Group Leader
Greg Smith, Engineering, Lands, and Minerals Group Leader
Carl Chambers, Forest Hydrologist
Tom Ford, Recreation, Planning, and Design Group Leader
Ben Johnson, Flood Recovery Team Community Liaison
Tammy Williams, Forest Public Affairs Specialist
Reghan Cloudman, Canyon Lakes Ranger District Public Affairs Specialist
James White, Flood Recovery Team Community Liaison
Hal Gibbs, Acting Deputy Forest Supervisor
Matt Fairchild, Forest Fisheries Biologist
Mary Beth Pecotte, Acting Boulder Ranger District Public Affairs Specialist