Many Water Lessons Amid Tragedy from Colorado Floods

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Water Researcher Sharon Kleyne Reports on Less Obvious Impact of Recent Flooding.

The recent massive flooding in northeastern Colorado was a tragedy in lost lives, destroyed homes and lost agricultural crops. In a recent interview, water researcher Sharon Kleyne took a step back to examine some of the lessons to be learned from the flood, and even point out a couple of benefits, while offering sincere condolences to the victims.

Sharon Kleyne is Founder of Bio Logic Aqua Research, a water and health research and product development center. Natures Tears® EyeMist® is the company’s global signature product for dry eye and dry facial skin. As part of an ongoing commitment to educating the public about water and health, Kleyne hosts the globally. syndicated Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water® radio show on VoiceAmerica and Apple iTunes.

Kleyne points out that the State of Colorado receives the seventh lowest total rainfall among the 50 states according to a 2004 article by Osborn, L, entitled “Driest states in America,”. Eighty-percent of that rain falls on the west side of the Rockies whereas 80% of the population lives east of the Rockies.

Despite the state’s numerous internal water problems, Kleyne explains, several major rivers originate in Colorado, placing the state among the nation’s leading water exporters. The Platte, Rio Grande, Colorado and Arkansas Rivers all originate in Colorado. The Arkansas is 1,469 miles long and the Colorado is 1,450 miles long. The Colorado and its tributaries are a major water source for New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and California; all arid states.

Because of this unique situation, any rain that falls in Colorado is beneficial to the water supply. Any rain that falls on the east side of the Rockies is especially beneficial.

The major rivers affected by the flooding, according to Kleyne, were the South Platte and its tributary, the Big Thompson. The South Platte runs through the center of Denver, across the high plains of eastern Colorado and halfway across Nebraska before joining the North Platte, crossing the rest of Nebraska and flowing into the Missouri just south of Omaha. For most of its course, the Platte is shallow, wide and not navigable, reflecting the flatness of the surrounding terrain. When the river floods on the high plains, Kleyne explains, there is little to stop it.

Kleyne also notes that most of the Platte lies atop the main portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, largest underground water reservoir in the US and one of the world’s largest. The aquifer covers most of Nebraska and part of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. According to Kleyne, because of extensive water withdrawal for irrigation, the Ogallala Aquifer, which took millions of years to form, is being rapidly depleted, with the water table dropping in some areas as much as five feet a year. Any natural event that helps recharge the Ogallala Aquifer, says Kleyne, is beneficial to the region.

Finally, despite past lessons, such as the Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976, Kleyne believes that flood control on the east side of the Rockies could be greatly improved. The only dam on the Big Thomson River is the Olympus Dam, which forms the 185 acre Lake Estes. The dam and reservoir are designed, among other things, to mitigate flooding in and around the City of Estes Park by releasing the overflow into the canyon according to the USGS. A much larger dam and reservoir, or a series of reservoirs, might have held back enough water to significantly lower the flood crest.

The Olympus Dam was build in 1947 by the Colorado-Big Thomson Project, whose primary purpose is to move water from west of the Rockies to East of the Rockies. Without adequate reservoir storage capacity, an outstanding opportunity was missed during the recent floods to collect and store water for recreation, drinking, agriculture, recharging the aquifer and humidifying the atmosphere in an otherwise arid region.

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Mikaylah Roggasch
Bio Logic Aqua Research-Rogue Media
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