This month marks two years since the devastating Colorado floods. Communities in 17 counties were affected by the mass amount of water, and some are still rebuilding.
One of these communities is Big Elk Meadows, a subdivision located in Lyons, Colorado that sits in the Poudre Valley REA (PVREA) service territory. Although power was restored fairly quickly after the torrential rainfall and devastation, we look back two years later at how the events unfolded and why this community is still rebuilding today.
Glenn Christensen, a full-time resident and current Board President of the Big Elk Meadows Association, remembers when the floodwaters hit.
“At 2:30 a.m. on September 13, 2013, Nelson Renouf, the head caretaker, and a deputy knocked on my door and told me to get my bunker gear on to go out and help with search and rescue,” he remembers.
There are five lakes in a row in Big Elk Meadows and the excessive rain destroyed the dams at each lake. There is only one main entrance into Big Elk Meadows, and the floodwaters completely washed it out. There was no easy way in and no easy way out.
With no access into the community and to the PVREA power lines that provide electricity to around 150 homes in Big Elk Meadows, power restoration was impossible at first. PVREA Lead Lineman Greg Rink and Working Foreman Bill Unruh hiked over four miles into the unruly terrain to survey the damage.
“When Greg and I walked up that ravine, we couldn’t believe how much was washed out from the water. All that was left was huge boulders. It was pretty incredible,” Unruh recalls.
Based on how the land had been split by the water, there were two groups that formed: The Firehouse Command and the Hickory Command, or as they later nicknamed themselves, The Hickory Nuts. Both stations used a generator to keep communications going. Big Elk Meadows resident Donna Compton communicated with part-time resident Guy Scoma.
At the time of the floods, Scoma was at his home in Longmont, and thank goodness for that. He still had access to electricity which allowed him to communicate with Compton constantly, both of them working 12 to 14 hour days exchanging information.
Scoma was the contact person for everything from organizing helicopters and pilots in and out of the meadows to keeping in touch with David White, Member Relations Manager at PVREA, for any electrical updates and news on restoring power.
Finally, in late October the roads were restored enough to give PVREA crews access. In just a few weeks, PVREA had new poles in the ground, wire strung and power was restored.
“Everyone was jumping up and down and we had cocktails to celebrate,” said Christensen.
Christiansen said the flood restoration brought the community and residents together and that was the most powerful thing that could’ve happened.
“Hats off to Poudre Valley REA. You guys were quick to respond,” said Christensen.
“I respect what the lineman do. I know the guys out on the field just did their darndest to not only get Big Elk Meadows up and running, but all of northern Colorado after the floods,” Scoma said.
The rebuilding of the dams and restoring property is going well, but slow. Big Elk Meadows lost all five dams at each lake in the floods and only one is back in place.
It took seven months to rebuild the first dam. The restoration of the community’s water system is almost complete, and there is some minor roadwork left on the checklist. Scoma thinks it will still take four or five more years before things are ‘back to normal’ in the meadow, but thanks to Poudre Valley REA, the community is not lacking power.
“We strive to have reliable electricity, but in those times where we have to shut the power off temporarily for maintenance or if there is a power outage because of weather, those folks don’t complain. They are very tolerant of the conditions up there,” Unruh commented.