Revisiting Boulder County Agriculture Following the Worst Flood in Colorado’s Recorded History

By Brenda Carlson, Public Affairs Specialist, FSA

Although it’s been over one year, Sept. 12, 2013, is a date forever etched in the minds of Boulder County residents as the beginning of an epic flood event that dumped a record nine inches of rain in one day and more than 17 inches for a five day total —  an amount comparable to Boulder County’s average annual rainfall totals.  The flood waters ultimately ravaged 17 counties. To say the impact on farmers and ranchers in these counties was significant is an understatement.

“Due to the time of year when the floods hit, most of the crops were out but damage to area farmland, nurseries and pastures was significant,” said Alvin Mascarenas, program technician for Boulder County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).  “Massive amounts of debris and sedimentation covered open fields and flood waters blew out the dams on numerous ponds that provide water for livestock.”

In response to the flooding, President Obama issued a Presidential Disaster Declaration which immediately initiated the federal assistance process.  One program in particular, the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) administered by FSA has, to date, provided more than $1.6 million in federal disaster recovery assistance to approximately 130 Colorado agricultural producers in need.

According to FSA, farmers and ranchers in the nine county area hardest hit by the flood, submitted ECP applications for damages and losses totaling more than $3.7 million so funding allocations will likely increase as more recovery work is completed and payments are issued to producers.

ECP, through funding appropriated by Congress, provides emergency financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and to implement emergency water conservation measures through periods of severe drought.

“Although ag operations in Boulder County are typically small scale, the damage from the flooding was substantial  and ECP has provided 75 percent cost-share assistance to farmers and ranchers to repair or replace underground sprinkler systems, remove debris and sedimentation and repair ponds for livestock,” said Mascarenas.

Boulder County rancher, Don Gettman had substantial damage to his property during the flood. The flood washed out two roads near Gettman’s land and deposited sand, rock and tree limbs in his cattle pasture. A small pond used for watering cattle and irrigation was also half full of debris and sand.

“My family has been on this ranch for 70 years and has never seen a flood like the one we experienced in 2013,” said Gettman. “The flood washed out 15 acres of pasture and destroyed a half mile of my barbed wire fence.”

Gettman has worked hard to clear the debris from his land and pond and recently finished building a new fence.  More than 12 months have passed and Gettman has finally been able to put his cattle back on the pasture that was damaged by the flood.

One year after the 2013 flood, the agriculture industry in Boulder County continues recovery efforts – efforts that are replicated in multiple counties across Colorado.

“ECP assistance, as demonstrated in Boulder County, was replicated across all Colorado counties impacted by the 2013 flood,” states Leland Swenson, state executive director for Colorado FSA.  “This emergency funding assisted many producers in restoring their fields and pastures to a usable condition.  Most fields were able to be planted to a 2014 crop and most pastures were grazed.  Irrigation structures were repaired or replaced as were fences, pipelines, ditches, and flood control structures.  The ECP program and the efforts exhibited by FSA employees assisted many producers in their recovery efforts following this devastating weather event. “

According to Mascarenas, after the flood waters subsided, county roads were impassable in most places.  Because the Boulder County Transportation Department had to open roads by clearing debris and sedimentation, they offered to haul away, at no charge, any debris farmers and ranchers could push to the county road which greatly reduced expenses incurred by landowners and operators, allowing FSA to stretch ECP dollars, further enabling the Agency to assist more producers than would have been possible without Boulder County’s in-kind assistance.

“Alvin [Mascarenas] and the Boulder County FSA Office have been so good to work with,” said Gettman. “I think we’re on top of things now that we have the cattle back on the repaired land. The county helped out tremendously by hauling off the sand, tree limbs and rock.”

Although recovery efforts continue, producers and land owners have not had to endure through the process alone. With the help of FSA cost share assistance and the Boulder County Transportation Department, landowners have been able to expedite the process of getting their lands back into production which is good for the producer…a win-win for the producer and the consumer. For more information on ECP and other FSA farm and credit programs, visit

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