Tag Archives: Denver

Denver Basin

Denver Basin

The Denver Basin is a deep syncline just east of the Southern Rocky Mountains.  It started around 300 million years ago when the Ancestral Rocky Mountains were uplifted.  A little plate tectonics here, folks.  A tectonic plate is a huge plate of rock slowly moving on the earth’s mantle at or near the surface. When two tectonic plates collide, one of them often dives beneath the other.  As the plate subsides, it runs into hotter rocks at depth.  The subsiding plate has lots of water which lowers the melting point of the rock.  Then things really go on the move.

The subsidence zone, usually along a coastline, gets pretty active, meaning earthquakes, volcanos, and the intrusion of huge blobs of granite known as plutons.  New rock coming in from below means the overlying rocks get uplifted into mountain ranges.  The other side of this mountain building is known as the foreland and usually subsides as its mass goes into the new mountains.  As it subsides, the new basin fills with debris eroding from the mountains.

The Flatirons, Dakota Ridge, the Garden of the Gods, all are built from rocks buried thousands of feet deep just a few miles from the outcrops.  I am sitting here writing atop thousands of feet of mountain debris.

The mountains eventually get hauled away in rivers or dumped into the basin.  This happened twice here in my home country.  The second event occurred at the end of the Cretaceous and the early Paleogene, about 60 million years ago.  Our current Rockies came up, known as the Laramide Orogeny, came up again, and the foreland deepened even more.  It ended up being about 13000 feet deep, filled with the stuff washed and blown off the mountains.

This all took a while.  Rivers formed, seas came and went, and lots of life contributed organic material to the basin.  The result?  Coal, oil, and gas.  The first oil well was in Boulder County, producing from fractured Pierre Shale, which was deposited by an inland sea.  Now this Basin is big, extending into Nebraska and Wyoming.  Huge amounts of oil and gas have been produced, and horizontal drilling and fracking are releasing even more.  The Denver Basin is an oil patch.

Water from the mountains also entered the basin, creating aquifers producing lots of water.  We pump the water and because it is in an enclosed basin, it doesn’t recharge as fast as it is pumped.  Douglas County is going to run out of groundwater some day.  Then the water will have to come from the rivers, and the supply is limited.  Thus, seemingly crazy proposals to pump water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in northern Utah to Eastern Colorado.  Problem: California and Arizona also want that water.

Climate change has the potential of reducing the available water as well, eventually ending population growth.  Amazon, Stay Away.  Mining started Colorado development, and today the money still comes from the ground, but is from oil and gas. As we transition to alternate energy sources, where is Colorado’s wealth going to come from?

Cleaning the Water

Building The Marston Plant a While Back

Building The Marston Plant a While Back

I spent 30 years in the water treatment industry.  Most of it was water treatment, but I put in three years in as a wastewater treatment operator.  The goal of both jobs is to make dirty water clean.  The processes are different, and the standards for the product differ, but the idea is to make the water safe for humans.   I wouldn’t recommend drinking wastewater plant effluent, but you can swim in it.  Water, you can drink, except in Flint. 

What about the stuff taken out of the water in order to make it safe?  In both instances the stuff is called sludge.  Sludge is nasty.  There are several kinds of wastewater sludge, some nastier than others.  The first step takes out the stuff that sinks.  In a wastewater plant,  that stuff is the nastiest.  I once fell in a pit of primary sludge, injured a finger, and lost it to infection.  In Spanish, my nickname is Nueve.    

There are several techniques to deal with wastewater sludge to render it more benign, but it still tends to stink.  (By any other name, it’s still shit.).  That sludge ends up on farmland or as compost.  Water plant sludge is treated differently, but gets used the same way. 

Water Filters

Water Filters

I spent sixteen years with Denver Water in the Marston treatment plant.  It is fed by Marston Lake with water from the South Platte River.  Most of the time South Platte water is high quality Rocky Mountain water.  At other times, the Rockies get unruly and send some dirty stuff down.  The treatment plants have to handle it all.  Water treatment is known as a physical-chemical process.  A chemical, usually aluminum sulfate is added to the water to make bigger pieces out of the sometimes microscopic pieces that must be removed (bacteria, viruses, cysts, silt, etc.). 

Then, the water goes into a big tank where those bigger pieces tend to sink to the bottom.  Machinery of some sort scrapes the settled sludge out and sends it to be treated further. 

The settled water then goes to the filters where almost everything is removed.  Next step, chlorine to kill all the little nasties that make people sick.  Then it goes down the pipe to town. 



What about all the sludge?  Lots of things are in the lake water.  Birds, fish, even small organisms create waste products that can be dangerous as well as unpleasant (shit).  It is mostly water, but the solids have to be dealt with.  At Marston, it goes into a big underground tank and accumulates until it gets removed, dewatered, and hauled away for compost making. 

The tank is 20 feet deep, 50 feet wide, and about 150 feet long.  After accumulating for a year, the tank is about six feet deep with sludge.  Now, water plant sludge is not as nasty as wastewater sludge.  Some of it is chemical, clay minerals as the end product of all that aluminum sulfate.  But, there are lots of organics as well.  When they sit for much of a year in an airless environment, they decompose into stinky stuff.  That stinky stuff also gives off hydrogen sulfide gas (the rotten egg smell).  H2S and water make sulfuric acid, not good for lungs. 

To get rid of that huge gob of stuff, we had to get down there with fire hoses, air monitors, and gas masks.  Nasty work and a contrast with our normal routine of lab work, monitoring the computerized systems, and doing routine maintenance.  Dirty work with those hoses, but kind of fun as well. 

Belt Filter Press

Belt Filter Press

We used those hoses to carve sludge.  We would make channels, wash down walls of goo, bore holes, make it spatter our coworkers, and other exciting activities.  The whole process took a couple of days.  The sludge then went to a thickener eh are much of the water drained off the surface and the sludge drained out the bottom.  Then, on to the belt filter press.  That thing looks like a big printing press.  The sludge goes between two five foot wide belts that go over and under a succession of rollers that squeeze much of the water out.  The resulting cake goes up into big hoppers and then into trucks, and hauled to the compost making facility.  In the old days all that stuff went into the river.  Now, it is a useful product. Pretty cool, eh?


Knees and Such



Old age happens if things go as planned.  Inside, I feel like the Bill I always have, but the case is starting to wear out.  I get together with my buddy Dan, and we always devote some time to catching up with our health care issues.  I went to the Orthopod this week, got a cortisone shot in my left knee (the other knee is Titanium).  Didn’t do much good.   

Every time Dan plays pickleball (I know, just look it up.), he limps.  He has a bad ticker, I have a bad brain.  I spend time at the VA audiology clinic dealing with hearing aids.  I saw the ENT specialist there about my balance problem that may be from damage to the vestibular nerve that was damaged from the loud noises responsible for my hearing loss.   

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

I itch.  For most of my life I was allergy free.  No more.  There is always something setting my eczema off along with the stuffy nose.  I have almost no sense of smell left.  Springtime is wonderful except for the pollen.  Fall is wonderful except for the pollen.   

I ache.  The knee, my wrist, both shoulders, and my back.  I think all this is a sign of old age.  Most of the time all these symptoms don’t interfere with my life.  I just soldier along not letting all the stuff get to me.  After all, it is just pain and will change tomorrow.  I can usually let it all go.  Yesterday, however, my knee hurt when it was straight.  It also hurt when it was bent.  Today it just barely hurts. 

The trick for me is to not let the pain go to suffering.  After all, we can’t do much about the pain, but suffering about it is a choice.  All this stuff is a reminder about death.  It’s clear by no that I am in the last third of my life, sitting in a coffee shop full of people in the first third of their lives. 

The good thing about getting older is that I know a lot of stuff.  I like thinking and writing about all that stuff.  For example, I am about to make you yawn as you read about the Golden Fault.  There is something for you to look forward to.  In the meantime, health issues. 

Carol has a chronic illness that limits her life, but the last year has been a bad one.  Late last spring she had cataract surgery that went bad.  The little sac the lens lives in tore, so the new lens had to go between her iris and cornea.  She got a little hole poked in her iris to let fluid move around.  The hole is too big, letting in too much light where it doesn’t belong, leading to lots of vision problems.   

Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery

She also had five stitches in her cornea, which meant pain for weeks.  Now, with a new Ophthalmologist, she is wearing a tinted contact lens to confirm the hole in her iris is too large.  The lens works, but she is not a contact lens candidate.  More discomfort.  The next step is a minor surgical! procedure to make the hole smaller. 

In the middle of all this, with all the multiple visits to eye doctors, she had hemorrhoid surgery.  It was her last resort and believe me, it should be a last resort.  Pain, lots of it, and a major restriction on activity.  What a year. 

But, through it all, life is good.  We have fun, cooking, snuggling, reading aloud, gardening, fixing the garage where I drove into it (I am always  on her case about her driving.).  And, we are watching NCIS from the first season on.  There is something about murder mysteries that pulls us, and the character development is as good as it was in Seinfeld.  We still call Mark Harmon Dickie, from a role he had as a detective years ago.  The name seems to fit him. 

Aging, health issues, losing old friends, all this comes when you are in your seventies, but life goes,on, and we are wise and skilled at enjoying life.  In addition, we just found out that Carol’s sister, diagnosed with stage four cancer, is now cancer free after an ordeal with treatment.  She had multiple tumors, and they are gone.

Flint Water

Flint Water

Flint Water

After 30 years in the water industry, I thought I should give my take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis.  There is a misconception that the water from the Flint River the state emergency manager switched to is poisonous.  Not true.  Properly treated, the Flint River water is fine, and would meet all safe drinking water standards.   

The problem is that the water was not properly treated.  As it comes from the river, the water is corrosive and attacks metals in the distribution system pipes.  To be safe, it must be treated to make it less corrosive.  There are chemical additives (phosphates) that coat the pipes and prevent lead and copper from leaching into the water.  Here in Denver, lime or soda ash are added to raise the pH  of the water, making it less corrosive.  In addition, over time a thin film of calcium carbonate forms on the inside of the pipes, effectively sequestering the toxic metals. The phosphate chemicals do the same thing. 

How can you tell if your water is safe?  The corrosive water also attacks the rust that forms in an old system, such as in Denver or Flint.  If your water is red, it has rust, but also lead and copper.  The lead and copper come from the pipes, not the river.  The rust won’t hurt you, just stain your fixtures.  The lead comes from lead solder (now outlawed) used to join copper pipes and from lead pipes once used to bring water from the main into the house.  The lead service lines are slowly going away, but many houses have galvanized steel pipes into the house.  These are safe, but that steel pipe won’t bend to attach to the tap on the main, which is high on the pipe to keep sediment out of the service line.  The solution, a flexible lead loop bending from the tap to the service line.   

Corroded Pipe

Corroded Pipe

In Denver some older houses have lead service lines, but the lead loops are more common.  My entire neighborhood in South Denver with houses dating from the Victorian era to the 1940’s has lead loops.  Most of them are replaced when the old galvanized pipes rust out and there is a leak.  Our house has a copper service line now.  Several houses on the block have had their old service lines replaced since we have lived there.  Look where the water line comes into your house.  If it is copper, you are OK.  Flint has the same situation. 

Aggressive water leaches lead and copper out of the pipes and renders the water toxic.  Lead is the most dangerous, as it is a neurotoxin especially dangerous for developing fetuses and young children.  Copper is also toxic, but copper pipes are more resistant to corrosion than lead. 

If you have red water in your house, it is possibly dangerous and needs to be tested.  The Flint water is not just red, it’s red mud.   Before the Safe Drinking Water Act, many small water systems had aggressive water.  As a kid, I watched red water flow into our bathtub, especially in the spring, when the water was mostly runoff.  Maybe that is why I am nuts, as well as the rest of us from Fruita.

How did this happen in Flint?  Flint has a treatment plant, but was using water from Detroit which has good corrosion control.  Flint has plans to switch from the Flint River to Lake Huron  as their water source.  Lake Huron water is higher quality than river water, making it less expensive to treat.  Detroit water is from Lake Huron.  The Michigan emergency manager for Flint ordered the switch to river water to save money.   

Flint is broke.  The demise of much of the U.S. Auto industry hit Flint hard, a General Motors town.  The result, white flight, leaving a population mostly poor and black.  The city couldn’t pay its bills and the state took over with a team appointed by the Governor.  Here is the root of the problem.  The federal Safe Drinking Water Act establishes standards for drinking water.  The law gives the states the option to administer the law, usually by the Health Department or the Environmental Quality Department.   

So, the State government is running the Flint government and water treatment process and is also charged with insuring the water is safe, a clear conflict of interest.  A wild card?  Racism.  Those poor black people did not have much political clout and were essentially ignored and belittled when they complained about their water.  It took a brave pediatrician seeing high lead levels in her patients to finally get action. 

Four governmental entities are involved.  The Flint city government was rendered superfluous when the state assumed control.  The federal EPA was passing the buck to the Michigan Environmental Quality Department and not doing due diligence in making sure the department was doing its job (the EPA administrator lost his job).  The state environmental quality regulators knew there was a problem, but were influenced by the Governor’s emergency management.  The result, a perfect bureaucratic storm, with the people of Flint as victims. 

The cost?  A public health crisis that will cost millions to fix.  It takes a long time for the calcium carbonate or phosphate coating to form in the pipes.  In the meantime the water is unsafe.  The people of Flint will have to be provided with bottled water for some time.  Lots of bureaucratic fingers are being pointed.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Will anyone go to jail?  Probably not, even though there is now a special prosecutor.  If the local Flint city government had been simply subsidized by the state until it got its house in order, the whole thing could probably been avoided.  Instead the emergency managers put money ahead of the public health.     

Many conservatives want to reduce the size of government, and return to the nineteenth century, before there was water treatment and people died of waterborne disease.  Government built a system to protect public health.  If government does not have the money do do its job, the public health will suffer.  Do you want safe water?  Don’t move to Flint.



Small Towns



I am a city boy now.  After leaving Fruita to go to college in Boulder, I have mostly lived in cities.  I like the culture, the business, and the amenities that come with the city.  Here I am in the coffee shop right nest to the Denver University campus, with the energy those young people bring.  It helps my writing.

I grew up in a small town, and they still exert a pull on me.  I spent a couple of summers in Keystone, South Dakota peddling turquoise jewelry to the tourists.  I got to know some of the locals during that brief time and enjoyed the Black Hills culture.  I get back to Fruita some, my 55th reunion is coming up, and like rekindling old friendships.

Last weekend I made a quick trip to Grand Junction and Fruita on family business.  There are a lot of memories there, and I enjoyed the feel of a much larger town than it was all those years ago.  Bad news: the pool halls are gone.  Good news:  you don’t have to settle for chicken fried steak in the restaurant.


After my adventure in Rattlesnake Canyon the day before, I decided to take a scenic route back to Denver.  My first stop was Collbran, a town on Plateau Creek I have always liked.  I was looking for the landslide that killed three men last spring, but went up the wrong creek (story of my life).  At the gas station, a local rancher and his son had their rubber boots, so we talked about irrigating for a while.

I went over Grand Mesa and drove through Cedaredge, another favorite small town.  I like Cedaredge for the view of the Uncompahgre Valley, the Uncompahgre Plateau,and the San Juans.  No view last Sunday, the smoke from all the fires in the northwest obscuring everything.  Cedaredge and Eckert right down the road are nice towns, but the highway runs right through town, as it does in Collbran.  The roads are noisy, busy, and sort of split the town.

I had lunch in Paonia, just about my all-time favorite town but for the fact that they usually killed us in football.  My senior year we lost so badly that I even got to play.  Paonia is off the highway and is the home of High Country News, a great magazine about the west.  The West Elk Mountains are just out of town, but the area’s economy is mostly farming and ranching.  They grow peaches, cherries, apples, and lately, wine grapes.  They have a nice mild climate right at the foot of the mountains.

I had a good hamburger in one of the restaurants and drove around a bit (that takes about fifteen minutes).  I was struck by the life in the town.  OnSunday morning families were out walking and kids from age six on up were riding their bikes all over town.  The last town I remember seeing that was Winslow, Arizona.

So, my main criteria for a good small town are no McDonalds, no Walmart, a farming economy, and school age kids on bicycles.  I don’t think I will ever leave the city, but if I do, it will be to a town like Paonia.

Colorado Rain, Ritual

Denver floodRain for a month.  In Colorado!  The climate change deniers must be having second thoughts.  It rains on the unrighteous (Republicans) as well as the righteous (me).  The upside is that we have been finishing up our landscaping project which began with our new garage last summer.  There are just a few loose ends, a little planting, support for the raspberry bushes, and cleaning up after the hailstorm.

Some of our new plants are a bit ragged, but I don’t think we lost anything.  Our neighborhood does not seem to get quite the weather extremes as other areas in the metro area.  We have a lot of leaves down I will rake up if it ever dries out.  I had sense enough to put my pickup in the garage before Thursday’s hailstorm.

Climate change.  It seems like this area will be wetter with more extreme events than in the recent geologic past.  Our front range mountains are good at catching moisture brought in from both gulfs by a low pressure system south of here.  Some call it the Albuquerque Low.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring much rain to California.

This area may become something of an oasis in a growing desert.   What is clear is that we can no longer count on the status quo.  Humanity has to drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere.  Of course, the earth seems to have self-correcting systems that restore a balance.  It takes a long time however, and may mean the extinction of the species responsible for disrupting things.  Once again the adage is proven true:  “In the long run, we are all dead.”

On a completely different subject, I am I the coffee shop right next to the Denver University campus and today is graduation day.  There were all these people all dressed up at 8:00 in the morning.  The woman across from me at the table flew in from L.A. Last night for her best friends graduation.  These rituals were on the wane for lots of years.  I did not even entertain the idea of add ending my graduation from CSU, but of course it was the sixties.  The only important ritual was passing the doobie.



Now ritual seems to be returning.  The Masons and the American Legion are dying out, but preschoolers are wearing caps and gowns to graduate.  Ritual brings us together, and we need more.  I don’t know what will replace the obsolete organizations, but something will probably happen.  People need one another, and have to come together to reaffirm that need.  Which reminds me, my 55th High School reunion is in September

College Towns


I have lived in college towns for most of my life.  They tend to be more liberal, have a vibrant cultural life, and steady infusions of young people having some of the best years of their lives.  The energy inspires me.

Grand Junction, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, even Greeley are all good college towns.  Here in Denver we live near the University of Denver.  I drink coffee and write in a coffee shop near the campus.  I write mornings, and the shop has a rush every hour when classes change.

We go to concerts at the Newman Center on the DU campus.  The student productions from the Lamont School of Music are always a lot of fun.  The musicians are excellent, and the operas are good, but the student voices are not always top quality.  I always want to hear Baroque music, and we go to concerts put on by Friends of Chamber Music.

The Newman Center also regularly presents professional artists from most everywhere.  Most notable recently are Cameron Carpenter, a wildly flamboyant and talented organist.  We just saw The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, a post-modern dance group from New York.  I was entranced by the dancers and the music, performed by Lamont students.

I am a little sad because Carol now refuses to ever see The Nutcracker again, and this year she would not go to see Oklahoma!  I just don’t know what is wrong with her.  When we lived on Capitol Hill we went to some productions at The Denver Center of Performing Arts, but the events at DU are less expensive and the Newman Center is one of the best venues anywhere.

I am not much for sporting events, but DU’s Lacrosse team is good and I have seen several games.  It’s a good game, fast, with more scoring than soccer, making it more fun to watch.  The crowds are fun as well, with a lot of youth lacrosse players watching the college boys.  There are always some fans of the other teams as well, because Denver draws people from all over the country.  It is also good that DU dropped football in the1950’s.  I used to watch Colorado College hockey when I lived in Colorado Springs, but haven’t been to a DU game yet.

Denver is a big city with several colleges.  Some of the colleges have neighborhoods that are part of the big city but qualify as college towns.  The area around DU is an example.  The Auraria complex has CU Denver, Metro, and Community College of Denver, with many more students than DU, but the area is a downtown complex, with most of the students commuting.  There is no college town feel there.

Washington Park

Washington Park

Capitol Hill has some of the feel, with a young population and a diverse, eclectic cluster of communities, but no college of any size.  DU, however, has dorms, lots of apartments, rental houses, and fraternities and sororities.  A real resident population, much like Boulder, Greeley, and Fort Collins.  People walk, go to events, party, and hang out in bars,restaurants, and coffee houses.  I didn’t know how much I missed all that until we moved into the neighborhood.  Evans Avenue, University Boulevard, Old South Pearl, Washington Park, and Observatory Park are places that tie the community together, with a fine University at the center.  I lived near Colorado College in Colorado Springs that had much the same feel, just on a smaller scale.

College towns, my favorite urban settings, I want to live in them always.


Election Day 2014

Election Day

Election Day

On November 1, 3, and 4, I served as an election judge at the Athmar Recreation Center in Denver. I was a machine judge, responsible for setting up, monitoring, and securing two voting machines at Athmar, required for use by persons who have difficulty with printed ballots.

I also was a judge for the last General Election in 2012, when I helped voters obtain the proper ballot for their precinct. The process then involved looking voters up in printed books. This time, the voter lists were computerized.  There were the inevitable glitches, but no voter was denied the right to vote.

 Here Come the Judge

Here Come the Judge

I was not very busy as a machine judge. In three days, the machines were used five times.  I got a lot of reading done.  I also worked at the table with the ballot boxes, helping voters cast their ballots and insuring security of the ballot boxes.  Voters also got I Voted stickers.  Those who came in to vote had lost their mail-in ballot or wanted to change a selection after they marked it in ink and ruined the ballot.  No one said the dog ate their ballot.

Athmar also had a ballot drop-off station in the street in front of the Recreation Centers. Voters were able to drop off their ballots without getting out of their cars.  I spent time out there as well, a welcome break from sitting at a table.

My fellow election judges were a delight to work with. Knowledgeable, helpful, dedicated, and friendly, they helped voters and helped the time go faster.  There was one who was a bit annoying, but that is the case in any setting.  I think I have been the annoying one at times.

A big part of the job is setting everything up before the polls open, and securing everything after the polls close. There is a lot of stuff needed at a polling place.  Handling all that stuff is big, but assuring the security of all the ballots is the most important part.  The voting machines had several kinds of seals that had recorded numbers we tracked to prevent any tampering.  Each morning and evening the seals were checked and their numbers recorded.

There were other judges who handled the ballot boxes. They were locked open, seals applied, closed and locked when full and new seals applied.  It would be very difficult to tamper with ballot boxes with all the security measures.  There was also a police officer on site.

The big thing? The money!  I was paid $10.00/hour for four hours training, and $11.00/hour for the election.  About 28 hours as a judge.  What a deal.  Our supervisor had served four 17 years for that kind of money.  That is dedication.

Saturday and Monday were fine. Tuesday, Election Day, went from 6:30 AM until 8:00 PM.  That is one long day.  It took the rest of the week to recover.  Will I do it again?  I’m not sure.  I enjoyed it, but it sure is a strain for an old guy.

Colorado’s Front Range Floods

2013 flood

2013 Flood

Those of us who live along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains enjoy a unique set of circumstances; a fine climate, mountain views, a mountain playground, and rivers that provide much of our water needs.  There are millions of people living in an urban area that runs from Pueblo to Fort Collins.

Most of the time, the physical setting and the climate combine to make the Front Range a fine place to live.  There is risk, however.  Most of the time we don’t have quite enough water for every need. The people are along the Front Range, and the water is on the western slope.  On occasion, we have way too much water.  We are subject to drought, our own waste of the water we have, and the floods that come out of the mountain canyons.

To understand these problems requires a look at two histories, the Rocky Mountain history for the last 75 million years and human history from 1859.  Around 75 million years ago the Rockies began to form.  As they grew, they also wore down.  The debris from the mountains spread from their base to as far as Nebraska.

The streams were bigger then.  Drive east to Bijou Creek and see the valley that obviously was not formed by the current flow in the creek.  The wind blew.  It still does, leaving eolian sand deposits.  Sand Creek, draining the area east through Stapleton and into Aurora is appropriately named.  You can identify the sand hills – they are grazing land, not good for farming.  That sand and dirt comes from as far as Utah and coats our cars.


Today, the Rockies are not eroding as fast as they did during the ice ages, but they are still coming down.  Back in the Precambrian when I took geology, the assumption was that erosion was a steady, gradual process.  Taking the long view, that is so, but on a human time scale, erosion is punctuated by periodic floods.  Some of the floods are from spring runoff from wet winters.  The catastrophic floods pound out of the canyons when storms park themselves over an area and it rains.  And rains.  Sometimes it rains more in a few hours than it does in several normal years.  Sometimes the rain is where the people are, just east of the mountains.

Large amounts of moist monsoonal air from the Gulf of Mexico move north along the Rockies and encounter a cold front coming from the west.  Sometimes the rains are short in a fairly small area.  At other times, as in 2013, the rain comes down over a large area, and it rains for days. To humans, these storms seem like unusual events, but they have been happening for millions of years.  Along with normal erosion, they have filled the Denver Basin with 13,000 feet of debris.  That is a lot of rocks and mud.



1864 Cherry Creek Flood

One of the first recorded monsoonal floods was in 1864, not long after Denver was settled.  Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians told the settlers seeking fortune not to build where Cherry Creek and the South Platte meet.  The town builders built there anyway.  It was a logical town site.  Trails met, grass, trees, and water were available, and the gold-rich mountains just a short distance away.  Much of the new town went downstream.


The town was rebuilt in the same place.  Floods came again.  Denver flooded in 1876, 1885, 1894, 1912, 1921, 1933, and 1965.  Pueblo flooded in 1921, the Big Thompson in 1976, Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs in 2013, and much of the Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins in 2013.  The link is from the Atlantic Monthly, with dramatic images from the 2013 flooding.

Most vulnerable are towns at the base of the mountains: Manitou Springs, Palmer Lake, Morrison, Golden, Boulder, Lyons, Loveland, and Fort Collins.  Towns along the South Platte, St. Vrain, Cache La Poudre, and Big Thompson rivers are at special risk.


Jamestown 2014

Will people stop building there?  Rebuilding is underway in every area flooded in 2013.  While researching this piece I traveled to Boulder, Jamestown, Lyons, and the farmland along the St Vrain.   I saw travel trailers parked nest to damaged homes with building permits on the flood-damaged houses.

Some actions do prevent floods.  Denver has Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, and Chatfield dams.  They are flood control dams designed to capture floodwaters.  Let’s hope they are big enough.

The photo above has a lot of rock in the foreground.  The rocks range in size from sand and silt to head size.  They were exposed by the 2013 flood, but were deposited by a previous flood that had enough force to carry that debris and dump it there.  upstream, there are narrow gulches with the lower ends scoured down to bedrock.  That debris went further downstream.

The Rocky Mountains are on the way to the Mississippi river delta in Louisiana.  It will take many millions of years, but they will wear down and become Mississippi mud.  Floods will hasten the process.

Bad Evening

I’m in lower downtown, Denver. It’s January 12, a Friday evening and the temperature is four degrees. It hasn’t gotten above 18 degrees in a week. There are a few inches of dirty snow on the ground, sidewalks and streets are icy. Tempers are short, people irritated.
I fit right in. We were supposed to meet at the new sushi bar 45 minutes ago. The place was crowded, a line of chilled people waiting to get in. She isn’t there. I call, her phone goes right to voice mail. My feet are cold, I start worrying about frostbite on the ear that got frostbitten on Loveland Pass years ago. I wait for thirty minutes and then head for my car.
It is a bit of a walk to my car. I know a spot on Champa that doesn’t have a meter, and people seem to avoid it. I get colder as I walk. I cross the street to the bus station. Time to warm up a little. I go in. The place is crowded, others warming up, travelers coming and going. I stomp and wiggle for a few minutes, then decide to cut through the bus bay for a short cut.
I go out the door to a noisy, smelly, frigid bus loading bay. Passengers are lining up for their busses, the off-duty cop is arguing with someone over his cell phone, ignoring the surroundings. A well-dressed African-American woman is trying to usher her four children to a waiting bus in the second row.
She looks distraught, the children, ages around four to nine, look cold, confused, and scared. The driver is loading luggage, passengers groping through layers of clothing for their tickets. A man walks through the bus entrance into the bay. African-American, he is wearing a tan trench coat, dark wool trousers, wingtips, and a gray fedora. He is talking on his phone when the youngest child looks up and sees him.
“Daddy!” She cries, running toward him. He lowers the phone as he sees her. She stops in front of a bus, realizing the man is not her father. The bus starts moving, the driver not seeing the little girl. The bus hits her, knocking her down and running over her head.
Screams, panic, people running to the accident, people running away. Blood, already starting to freeze, runs out from under the bus past small, motionless feet. The mother collapses, the cop moving toward her. Quickly, firefighters and paramedics run in. I vomit.
Still retching, I walk into the waiting room and sink onto a bench. Bad evening.