riparian rap

Pondering the Colorado floods on the way to GSA 2013 Denver

Editor’s note: This is the first blog post by our new Research Assistant, Anna Durrett.

Last week’s end of the government shutdown will bring needed disaster recovery funds to Colorado. The deal that reopened the government included $450 million for rebuilding transportation infrastructure in Colorado devastated by flooding last month.

While money is necessary to rebuild, Colorado’s problems are not over. Not all roads and bridges should simply be rebuilt. Infrastructure should be built smarter to fit the new climate we are facing and be less susceptible to severe damage.
Floodwater destroys a bridge along Highway 34
toward Estes Park, Colorado, on September 13, 2013.
(AP Photo/Colorado Heli-Ops, Dennis Pierce)
See more photos of flooding here.


States must fight lengthy battles to rebuild stronger infrastructure in order to be less vulnerable when the next storm comes along. For flood mitigation, making upgrades during rebuilding often has higher short-term costs, but it can reduce long-term costs and reduce damages in the future.
River conservation and science education are two of our prime goals at Little River Research & Design. One of the main purposes of our models is to help educate legislators and stakeholders, and our models were extensively used for this following flood damage in the Northeastern U.S. in 2011.
Roadways should be given different paths that are less susceptible to flood damage. When roads run along rivers, floods can cause severe damage that is not a quick fix. On mountain terrain, there isn’t always another option, but a new design could be possible in some damaged areas.
Bridges can also be improved. Floodwaters can wash away poorly designed bridges that are out of harmony with river processes, and those bridges are good candidates for a redesign.
Out of Colorado’s 411 bridges on state roads, 120 need repairs, but the Colorado Department of Transportation deemed none to be completely destroyed and in need of replacement.
Some bridges on local roads will need to be replaced. Colorado Springs plans to replace seven bridges.
Colorado will be hit by another flood, and what happens during the next few years while the state rebuilds will make all the difference. Financial cost isn’t the only concerning issue. Eight people died in October’s flood, and the environmental impact from oil and gas spills is yet to be fully known.
You can see the immense power of water in this video from Loveland, Colo. where the flooded Big Thompson River nearly destroyed the town’s last water pipeline.
There are people with good ideas out there making positive changes. Rives Taylor of Houston is one of the people on the right track to handling stormwater. He advocates for working with the water instead of against it.
Four of us from LRRD will display our Emriver models in Denver next week at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. I look forward to learning more about the effects of the flood and rebuilding efforts in Colorado directly from the scientists living and working there. I am also excited to see GSA attendees interact with our models.
Nathan packs the truck before heading to Denver for GSA 2013.

If you would like to come see our Emriver models in Denver at the Colorado Convention Center, we’ll be there from Sunday, Oct. 27 to Wednesday, Oct. 30. You can email me at anna.lrrd at gmail dot com for all the details.


Nathan talks with GSA attendees in 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Editor’s addition – June 20, 2019.  Information about how Emriver models are being used in flood mitigation work in the Northeast.

Following 2011 Tropical Storm Irene and the loss of many roads and bridges throughout the state, Vermont saw the need to improve how their infrastructure is built. What resulted is now their very successful Rivers and Roads Program, a partnership between the Vermont Agencies of Natural Resources and Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The program uses Emriver models during two-day workshops for municipal roads departments, private sector engineers, and heavy equipment contractors. The models are used to teach how rivers work, and how to design, construct, and maintain roads and bridges to create greater river stability and more flood-resilient transportation infrastructure. 

The ability to demonstrate and test various flood scenarios and how channel, culvert, and bridge designs are affected are lessons that stick with the workers and help them implement what they’ve learned in their jobs. This has been very effective for flood mitigation work. Rivers and Roads has been so effective that other states and federal agencies are duplicating the program.

Click here for more information about this project.