Floods on the Colorado: If It Has Happened in the Past, It Can Happen - Mountain Buzz
 

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Unread 2 Weeks Ago   #1
 
Andy H.'s Avatar
 
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Floods on the Colorado: If It Has Happened in the Past, It Can Happen

'Was just reading this article by Eric Kuhn on the Inkstain blog:

Floods on the Colorado: If It Has Happened in the Past, It Can Happen

The take home:

Quote:
...Based the field work of Baker and his students, evidence of flood flows on the Colorado River just upstream of Moab, Utah and the nearby Green River point to a flow as high as 300,000 cfs (each). The estimated past peak flow at Lee’s Ferry is about 500,000 cfs, four times the 1984 peak!
Imagine Cataract at 500K cfs. Or if the Colorado has flowed at 300K above Moab, it'd be pretty high way up into the drainage - consider Barrel Springs running at 50K or 75K cfs.

-AH

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Unread 4 Days Ago   #2
 
plainfield, New Jersey
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Thats a lot of water! I live out in NJ, and often (even this sunday) will float the lower reaches of the delaware. Down by new hope on the Pennsy side there is a white line of paint, and a note 1957 high water mark. This is off your right shoulder, about 12 feet above the road. If you look to your left you see the roofs of very fancy 2-3 story houses. When the delaware floods again to that level, entire towns will be wiped out, and, the crazy bit is it was not even 100 years ago that it happened last! Yikes.
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Unread 4 Days Ago   #3
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The system of dams on the upper CO basin prevent it from happening, add to that the immense diversion capacity to the front range. A big winter with sudden warming and a big rain event might get you to 200,000 CFS but the absorption capacity of the reclamation projects pretty much has the river in chains.


Another consideration is that the current Rockies are likely much smaller than the ancestral Rockies, producing less orthographic lifting and subsequently snowfall.


I also wonder if some of those massive flow events were the result of natural landslides causing dams that breached during seasonal flooding events creating a "perfect storm" scenario. I don't think that the premise is that they regularly ran at those epic flow levels, only that they ran at those levels during one apocalyptic event
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Unread 3 Days Ago   #4
 
Fraser, Colorado
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If those dams are full from a previous wet year, kind of like this one, you are going to loose much of that diversion capacity though, much like the 1983 event.
You would think the dam controllers would have learned something from the ‘83 episode, however....

Great point on the Colorado ancestral mountains Noah.

Interesting stuff, if I ever manage to semi retire before I die, I think I would go back to school and take a geology class, that and ancient world history.

Thanks for posting the article, Andy, I enjoyed it very much.
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Unread 3 Days Ago   #5
 
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We may or may not see such events in our lifetime, but Mother Nature will always prevail.
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Unread 3 Days Ago   #6
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noahfecks View Post
Another consideration is that the current Rockies are likely much smaller than the ancestral Rockies, producing less orthographic lifting and subsequently snowfall.

I also wonder if some of those massive flow events were the result of natural landslides causing dams that breached during seasonal flooding events creating a "perfect storm" scenario. I don't think that the premise is that they regularly ran at those epic flow levels, only that they ran at those levels during one apocalyptic event
The Ancestral Rockies rose about 300 million years ago had likely weathered to nubs about 100 million years before the Colorado River system evolved.

Good point, though, about landslide dams, and the next question would be whether there's evidence of any in the basin that would've unleashed a Lake Missoula-like deluge from glacial dams. In the relatively recent geologic timeframe of the study above, this should still be visible. There have been similar glacial dam floods on the Arkansas when glaciers have blocked the valley up near Leadville, and one would expect it's been possible during the ice ages in other alpine settings around the Green and Colorado Basins.

And like Matt says, if the reservoirs are already full, then they may not have much storage capacity. Though there'd likely be enough to attenuate any major spikes - unless one of the upper dams failed...

-AH
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Unread 3 Days Ago   #7
 
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Not burying my head in the sand to catastrophic events being possible, but I would think dam failure and subsequent dam failures of reservoirs at full capacity would be the only way an immense spike could come close to happening. My suspicion is that in our lifetime we won't ever see enough snow or rainfall to even imagine something of this nature.

If it were a snowpack of extra grand scale, you would think the tools we have today could have us prepared for what could happen and do all things possible to eliminate it. AKA dump water downstream from each reservoir, pump water over to the front range, or even prepare lower level areas for flooding.
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Unread 3 Days Ago   #8
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Lots of great points


The dam managers have so much more data and modeling available these days that I think it is unlikely that they would be caught off guard. We have snowpack and moisture content data from across the basin that should let them know approximately how much water will come down each spring and empty reservoirs early if possible. i admittedly can also see how one mistake, especially higher up in the basin, could lead to a chain reaction event.


I wasn't thinking clearly when I commented on the ancestral Rockies as canyon country is the deposit left after their erosion, good catch Andy. I do think even the latest iteration of the Rockies had features that were much taller than they are today, the grand mesa for instance.


I think of the current choke points along the river as possible natural dams sites. Is anyone aware of a study that has ever looked for such an event? I believe the CO river used to flow across fro Whitewater to Gateway before a geological event pushed up the divide and created a massive lake where present day Grand Junction is. Another geologic event probably caused the the anticline that split the current river path open and could have released a flow like that.


Is the 83-84 event our 100 year peak? If so I could imagine the CO flowing at 150K+ and the San Juan at 125K+ without the dam diversion absorption. That makes 300k in the grand very plausible just 100 years ago.


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Unread 4 Hours Ago   #9
 
Fraser, Colorado
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WTF Noah?!?!!

Yesimapirate, before back pumping water to Denver in preparation for a big run off, do you think we could have Denver build a wall on there eastern flank, and make them pay for it???

Interesting stuff, I enjoy yalls view points on the subject matter.
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Unread 2 Hours Ago   #10
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