The history mirrors almost perfectly the development decisions currently happening in Boulder. Accepted engineering flow models over-predicted the flow capacity of Coyote Creek and therefore underestimated the flooding areas. These model predictions were used to justify new development; much like CU and Hogan-Pancost developers are doing now.
Back almost 30 years ago, when I was on the City Council, we engaged in a very detailed study of the major drainages that flow through Boulder, and the likely damage that could result from floods. Our objective was to come up with appropriate risk mitigation standards. Council member Spense Havlick and I even went to CSU and tried to walk across their artificial flume at various flow rates and depths to test our ability to walk through a flood.
For 20 years, it has been known that hundreds of homes in south Boulder are in danger of flooding from South Boulder Creek, and the city has spent millions developing a $40 million plan to mitigate the problem. A major component of the plan is a detention pond west of U.S. 36 designed to store a flood’s peak flows and release them slowly over time.
CU-South is comprised of the old Flatiron gravel pits in the historic South Boulder Creek streambed at the foot of a steep 136 square-mile Front Range drainage basin.
Floods were once considered unforeseeable acts of God, and universities wisely built facilities on hills. But at CU-South, the University of Colorado is placing its faith in computer simulations of 100-year floods and a dicey 6,000 foot earthen levee.
While floodplains and riparian areas are poor choices for development, they provide excellent habitat for plants and wildlife, and natural detention for floodwaters. The city and county of Boulder have both recognized that floodplains and open space go hand-in-hand, and for that reason, 220 acres of the CU-South property is designated as open space in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP).