What We Can Learn from the Deadly Boulder Floods
On Thursday as I was reading about war and peace, headlines about a flash flood in Boulder kept arriving all through the day: “At least 3 dead in Colorado flooding; Boulder ‘overwhelmed with water’” (LA Times), “Flood threat still strong as 3 killed in Colorado” (USA Today), “Boulder flood: 2nd death confirmed, county calls in National Guard to assist with rescues” (Boulder Daily Camera), “Boulder Flooding: Deadly High Waters in Northern Colorado Force Evacuations, Cause Mudslides” (Huffington Post), …
“How can the imagination be provoked to envision an event outside our daily experience, one that completely alters the landscape we occupy? How can the predicted flooding of Boulder Creek be made tangible to the residents of this city? … Looking from one point to the next, connecting the dots [painted blue discs], the level of a flood [500–year flood] is no longer abstract. This is one part of a larger study about the flooding of Boulder Creek that would more fully reveal additional aspects of the nature of a flood, and how future floods would affect the city.”
Her blue discs became very popular. Residents were not only enjoying seeing those attached to trees while walking or biking along the creek, but discs were disappearing too—vandalize would be too harsh a word, instead it’s more like people were taking a few back home like we take sand dollars from a beach. I helped Mary replace a few, fast. Mary Miss’ art was “a deceptively simple outdoor installation that powerfully illustrated the potential danger of climate change in the immediate locale,” art critic Suzanne Boettger wrote in Art in America special issue “Art & Politics.”
“At best [artists] can make the hot breath of climate change both vivid and immediate to this visually oriented society… They can also deconstruct the ways we are manipulated by the powers that be and help open our eyes to what we must do to resist and survive.”
Weather Report did “deluge the populace with artwork” exhibited all across town in numerous venues and outdoors. I surmise that no one in Boulder had imagined then that the real “deluge” would arrive—so soon.
“I attended my class on Wednesday afternoon while it was still drizzling. I went back home from school at around 6 pm with the rain getting worse. At about 8 pm, I got a text message about the flash flood warning from the National Weather Service (NWS). Then every 30–60 minutes I was getting texts from NWS as well as the university alert system regarding the status of the floods. People were advised to stay away from the Boulder Creek and try and stay at high–rise areas. I had never seen anything like this in my 7 years at Boulder, and rarely back in India. Being on the 3rd floor of a building, I felt safe inside the house but a friend of mine who lived close to the campus was evacuated like many others. The campus was declared closed on Thursday and Friday. The small boulder creek where we used to go tubing in summer has turned into a river with water flowing at 5000 cubic feet per sec!”
The Los Angeles Times reported that “officials are seeing flooding in areas that are not even close to water. Many major roads in and out of Boulder were closed or impassable, and officials were asking people to stay in their homes.”
“Some of the flooding was exacerbated by wildfire… That was particularly true near Jamestown in an area scarred by fire in 2010 and another near Colorado Springs' Waldo Canyon that was hit in 2012. Rain is normally soaked up by a sponge–like layer of pine needles and twigs on the forest floor. But wildfires incinerate that layer and leave a residue in the top layer of soil that sheds water.”
Furthermore, climate change induced bark beetles infestation during the last decade killed tens of millions of pine and piÃ±on trees, all across the southwest. As I wrote in 2010 that between 2001 and 2005, more than 54.5 million piÃ±ons—90% of mature piÃ±ons died in New Mexico from bark beetles infestation.
When I started my walks [in 2006], I did not realize that the piÃ±on–juniper stands across the Desert Southwest are actually old–growth forests, ancient woodlands that support an amazing diversity of wildlife, including 250 bird species, 74 species of mammals, 17 species of bats, 10 amphibian species, and 27 species of reptiles. Sadly, as I continued my photography, I began to realize that the old–growth piÃ±on forest in New Mexico is mostly dead due to recent climate change.
The massive death and destruction of trees—from bark beetles and wildfires—turn a forest that used to be a carbon sink—to a carbon source, further contributing to climate change.