Chatfield State Park Flooding

Colorado has seen a lot of rain and moisture so far in 2015.  This spring brought more showers than we typically see.  The normal drier weather that we see as summer comes around never really came.  The cooler temperatures and rain continued well into the month of July.  Many of Colorado's reservoirs and lakes have received enough water this year to bring levels up to full capacity or even higher. 
The morning of July 5, 2015, I took a drive through Chatfield State Park to take a look at the flooding.  The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Chatfield dam beginning in 1967 to curb flooding issues downstream.  The lake was later leased to the Colorado State Parks to allow recreational use of the water and surrounding area. 
As you drive by the park on C-470, it's easy to notice that the dam holding the water back is much taller and more massive than is necessary for the typical water volume held in the reservoir.  The dams at Chatfield, Cherry Creek State Park and Bear Creek were designed to prevent flooding throughout the Denver area in the event of 100 year floods, the exact kind of rain fall and precipitation we received in 2013. 
As I drove through the park on July 5, I wasn't witnessing a 100 year flood, but Chatfield was still around 10-12 feet higher than normal.  I could tell by the high water mark that I had missed the highest water levels.  I took a few photos as the sun was coming up to show the extent of the flooding along the west side of the park.
Chatfield State Park north boat ramp during high water.
The water line at the north boat ramp was nearly to the top of the launcheable area.  In fact, the slope at this part of the ramp barely seemed steep enough to launch a small boat.  It seemed unlikely that a larger boat could be launched without backing the tow vehicle well into the water.  I spoke to the gentleman that launched his boat (as seen at the end of the ramp).  He commented that he wouldn't want to try to launch a larger boat at the current water levels.  I could see that the high water mark in this area was into the turn around area above the ramp, which resulted in the ramps being closed the weekend before.  While I was there the south ramps were still closed.  The lack of room at the north ramps and closed south ramps led to long delays for the 4th of July crowd trying to boat at the reservior.

These next two photos show part of the shoreline along one of the picnic areas on the west side of the park.  Normally the waterline is on the other side of the treeline and there are picnic tables and fire grills in the trees.  In the photo below you can see the top of a fire grill if you look closely in the ridge edge of the open, orange colored section of water.  In the photo to the right, the entire foreground area was within the previous highwater mark as evidence by the matted, pushed over grasses.  For the fishermen, I'm sure the bass in the lake are appreciating the new cover areas available with the submerged shorline and trees.  I noticed some bird watchers out taking advantage of the hundreds of birds that seem to have flocked to the area to take advantage of the extra water. 


Chatfield State Park flooded west shoreline.  Note the top of a fire grill in the water towards the center of the photo.

One of the bigger questions is the long term affects of the high water.  Portions of the road that goes along the southern part of the lake were underwater and the Colorado State Parks has already started working to repair the roadways that were damaged by the high water.  In addition to the roads, other infrastrucure was submerged due to the high water.  The above fire pits and picnic tables may require repairs.  The bigger issue is more substantial infrastructure that was submerged underwater.  Below is a photo taken from the swim beach parking area:
Chatfield State Park swim beach flooded and under water.
The entire swim beach is now underwater, to include the bathrooms that are nearby.  While the entire building is not completely underwater, it's safe to say that enough water is around the buildings to cause serious concerns for the restrooms.
For now the waters are receeding and the park is working to return to normal operations. 


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