Vermont Flood Experts Aid Colorado Recovery

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The rainfall in Colorado was being called “biblical” and while I watched the news last week, the resulting flooding certainly looked like it. Then came the necessary wave of phone calls, emails and texts. I was actually far from Colorado at the time, in a state that has also been ravaged by floods.

Although I live in Denver and spend time in Boulder, I was visiting family in Vermont while the record-breaking rain pounded the region back home. To locals in the Green Mountain state who witnessed Tropical Storm Irene’s watery, heartbreaking toll in 2011, the news from Colorado looked eerily familiar. So familiar that three Vermont Agency of Transportation staff members just arrived in Colorado at the governor’s request to help plan the state’s recovery.

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“The similarities to Irene make our experience valuable to them,” Vermont Agency of Transportation secretary Brian Searles said in a press release from the governor’s office. Deputy secretary Sue Minter, chief engineer Richard Tetreault, and director of operations Scott Rogers arrived in Colorado yesterday. After Irene, the Vermont team worked on rebuilding roads, bridges and culverts.

“We discovered in Vermont that much of the damage we experienced after Irene mirrored damage from flooding in 1927 and again in the 1970s, because we rebuilt in the same way and in the same places,” Vermont Agency of Natural Resources secretary Deb Markowitz wrote in an op-ed piece for CNN.com. To avoid making that mistake again, teams rebuilt outside flood zones or in a way that could withstand future flooding.

Back in Colorado, national TV news reports made it seem like the flood waters had washed Boulder away entirely. The city is still there, although nearby Jamestown and Lyons have been turned into islands. For the most part it seems like local communities are pulling together to get through the disaster.

Why Is Colorado Flooding?

State officials have reported at least six flood-related deaths, with many people still missing. A lot of the aftermath didn’t make national headlines: wet basements, waist-high water on first floors, farmers assessing crop damage, hiking trails turned into debris fields. To those who are still coping, I’m sure the recovery feels like it should be getting more attention. The danger is forgetting.

While driving in Vermont I thought about how tourists who come for the foliage probably won’t realize how much the state went through with Tropical Storm Irene. But they might notice bumper stickers and signs that declare I Am Vermont Strong. Colorado, forged by wildfire and drought, is insanely strong, too.

Photo: Flooding in Boulder, Colorado, last week at Canyon Boulevard and 13th Street. Credit: Patricia Baragar via Instagram.

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