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After the Storm: Rainbows

December 10, 2013 | Land Trust Alliance | Washington, D.C.

Proving that land kept as Mother Nature had originally designed it can have amazing resiliency under extreme circumstances, a parcel protected by the Estes Valley Land Trust in Colorado experienced no erosion during a recent flood, despite huge amounts of water running onto it from the nearby parkway. EVLT is now working with a “stream team” in Estes Park that includes multiple partners to both protect the river and the people who live near it.

Mary Banken, the executive director of EVLT, notes that damage from the recent flooding in Colorado came from two sources: flash floods, where swollen rivers shot over their banks and wreaked havoc across the landscape, and a rising water table that lead to flooded basements, crawlspaces and driveways. Because the ground could not absorb any more water, the water infiltrated basements and foundations.

Conservation can help, however. Mary noted that properties that had not been disturbed often fared better in the heavy rain. The un-compacted soil could absorb more water. The deeper roots of trees and native grasses retained the water longer to give it more time to infiltrate the soil.

With the knowledge that land kept as Mother Nature had originally designed it can have amazing resiliency under extreme circumstances, EVLT is now working with a stream team in Estes Park that includes local residents, the sanitation district, the park and recreation district, the lodging association, FEMA, hydrologists, town officials and county officials to identify the healthiest way to live with the rivers in town and also be ready for the next flood.

The hope is that the incredible events of this past year can lead to meaningful progress in conservation – both to protect the river and to protect the people who live near it. EVLT hopes to see certain areas set aside so the stream has room to move and the land can absorb the intense energy that floods unleash.

Mary has said it was “a mind-blowing event but we have created positives from it.” The river corridor project, thus far, has been an inspiring opportunity to work with the stakeholders in Estes Valley. Mary notes that EVLT is now working with the town development office in ways that they haven't seen before.

Perhaps the letter posted on the EVLT website says it best:

“The board of directors and staff of EVLT are saddened by the destruction this powerful natural event caused in the lives of the valley’s residents. Not only did the tragedy rearrange human life, it changed the landscape, it moved the rivers and it even altered the expansive views of the distant horizon. The dilemma of preservation goes even further than a parcel of land. It goes to the heart of who we are as Coloradoans.”

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