Tab on city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks project tops $2M
By Charlie Brennan
In the wake of the September 2013 flood that carved new contours into Boulder County’s topography, Marianne Giolitto and her husband, Jason Schroeder, went for a bike ride. It was with more than a casual eye that she studied the havoc along Boulder Creek east of downtown.
A wetland and riparian ecologist for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks department, she was going to have a significant hand in repairing the damage. What she couldn’t guess back then is that four years later, that work wouldn’t yet be over.
“That definitely didn’t register,” Giolitto said on Thursday. “There’s just been a stunning amount of work.”
But a significant benchmark in the completion of that task has now been reached, as the Boulder Creek restoration project in a 2-mile stretch straddling 61st Street is coming to fruition.
“We are at a very significant milestone,” said Giolitto, who managed the project along with her supervisor, Don D’Amico. “The creek’s flowing back through its pre-flood path. That’s a significant milestone for us. The diversion was pretty significant. We were pretty excited on the construction crew when it happened, when we finally put the creek back.”
There was no Champagne uncorked as that benchmark was achieved several weeks back. But there was great satisfaction for those who have labored since the spring of 2014 to reverse the havoc that saw the creekbed breached, city and private funds inundated by rogue waters and sediment plugs created that impeded an effective flow in a critical drainage.
“The other reason this is a milestone, again, (is) getting the creek to convey its flow, both water and sediment. Getting the earthwork done puts the creek in a place where it can actually convey its sediment,” Giolitto said. “Which is a really important piece to getting it back to creating more resiliency.”
The project involved the contributions of more than 100 city staff, contractors, volunteers and private landowners, and ran to a final tab of $2,030,000. Roughly 25 percent of that was covered by partners that included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Environment for the Americas and the Green Ditch Company.
Boulder OSMP spokesman Phillip Yates said the city leveraged $520,000 in grants to help pay for the project, putting the city’s actual cost at $1,510,000.
Primary contractors have been North State Environmental and Left Hand Excavating, with Five Smooth Stones Restoration and Stantec providing project design work. Support has also come in the form of labor provided through the Bridge House Ready To Work program.
Finish line in sight
The project, which will involve continued management efforts for at least a couple of years going forward, has included the planting of more than 11,000 shrubs and native trees — yes to the plains cottonwood, thumbs down to the non-native crack willow — improving the native fish habitat and restoring natural areas surrounding the creek.
The project area is transected by 61st Avenue, but does not include a popular public pathway that would put it squarely in the public eye in the way that efforts at popular trail systems such as those at Chautauqua and Mount Sanitas are so visible.
“People might see the impacts of the flood as specifically a very trails-oriented impact,” Yates said. “However, there was pretty extensive damage all across the system. There were water delivery systems that we needed to fix. There was agricultural infrastructure we needed to fix. Then, there were a lot of riparian corridors that were scoured. And then we had to go back and take some steps to have some restoration efforts to then actually make those areas better.”
City restoration projects elsewhere, on trails such as Shadow Canyon South, as well as Mesa Trail, are ongoing, Yates said.
“But right now we’re nearing the finish line,” he said. “And having this (Boulder Creek project) completed is so gratifying, to see that this work is now coming to fruition and we have an ability to look and maybe see the horizon on completing our flood-recovery work.”
The enterprise along Boulder Creek has highlighted the symbiotic approach to land management that the city has strived to employ.
For example, the project repurposed hazard trees that had to be taken down elsewhere in the city, using them for Boulder Creek bank protection and to cover over pools to improve fish habitat.
“Those have been great ways to reuse materials and partner with other people and other departments” in the city, Giolitto.
‘Still a creek’
The September 2013 storm that savaged Boulder County and Colorado’s northern Front Range has been classified as a 100-year flood and a 1,000-year rain event — but was a far more small-scale disaster than the horrific suffering inflicted the past week on Houston and much of southeastern Texas. It is sobering for those still engaged with Boulder’s recovery projects to think what lies ahead for those touched by Tropical Storm Harvey and its aftermath.
“It’s been four years of hard work, day-to-day work, and that has been the priority of this department ever since the flood subsided,” Yates said. “And the level of work that we have put into rebuilding trails, restoring affected ecosystems and repairing our agricultural infrastructure has been a large task. And it has taken all of us — community staff and everyone outside of the department — to really make this effort happen. And we’re nearing that end.
“And again: our hearts break for Houston. It’s been an experience, a humbling experience, to see what had happened. To now actually be at a point where we’re taking the steps of getting near the finish line is a remarkable achievement.”
Because nature always gets the last word, there is no guarantee that restoration of the creek corridor on the city’s eastern fringe will prevent it from going rogue in damaging ways after a future event — although, hopefully the effects of another such storm will at least be somewhat mitigated.
“It is still a creek,” Giolitto said. “And if we get a 100-year flood, I’ve talked a lot about resiliency, but there shouldn’t be an expectation that in a large enough storm event, we will not see flooding again.
“I would just call that realism.”