Assessing Colorado's long-term flood damage

Manuel Sanchez takes in the view of his flooded home and property on September 14, 2013 in La Salle, Colorado. Heavy rains for the better part of week fueled widespread flooding in numerous Colorado towns.

As floodwaters recede from the plains of Colorado, farmers are assessing the damage to their crops. Agriculture contributes $40 billion to the state’s economy. There could be some long-term benefits from the flooding recharging the soil with nutrients, but those hopes are tempered by worries about contaminated flood waters.

Norm Dalsted teaches agricultural economics at Colorado State University. He’s been touring flooded farms, most of which grow corn and hay to feed livestock. He says even if those crops survive to harvest, it may not be safe to feed them to livestock because of contamination.

“Basically the wastewaters that were flowing in the river as a result of breached sewage treatment plants. Also there was some crude oils spillage.”

Brian Werner at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy is less worried about this year’s crops than next year’s. That’s because of damaged irrigation systems.

“The farmer’s irrigation canals and ditches and head gates were totally compromised,” Werner says.

It’s unclear just how big the hit to the agriculture economy will be, but there is a silver lining, Werner says. Soil moisture should be much higher than usual next year. That’s great for dryland farmers -- those that don’t use irrigation. But if irrigation and transportation infrastructure isn’t repaired quickly enough, much of that perfectly moist soil will be useless.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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