September 13, 2013

Constant Updates: elephant founder Waylon Lewis on the Boulder Flood.

It’s a time when most community pulls together. Some spectators and me-firsters of course, but mostly inspiring.

Aftermath update: just biked to 63rd and Jay and back. What I saw along the way is sobering and sad. Whenever I’m not out, even in the midst of my neighborhood getting hit by water that tore apart our streets and drowned our basements, whenever I’m not out I keep thinking “ah Boulder is well off and has its act together, this is a bunch of first world problem complaints, this flood can’t be that bad really.“So today, I bike to University Bike Shop, get my bike healed up a bit (it got drowned a bit, dry, muddy) and bike off to meet with my mentor/MI Frank Berliner out in the farmland. As I get out East I take my usual bike path.

First of all the air everywhere is khaki-colored–dust in the air from sediment that’s settled all over town from the flooding, and cars now whipping it up. Along the way I see mud, some areas hit hard, some not at all.

As I get out east the bike path is covered in mud, then more mud–all the groundhogs are mostly gone, probably mostly drowned, their holes buried in feet of mud that followed the water. Then the water takes over the bike path entirely and I bike on the highway, littered with tree bits. Then I’m back on the bike path but it’s all deep mud, I ford a crossing, then the bridge is out, the path is out, I’m walking knee deep in mud and new little creeks, holding my bike with computer etc over my shoulder, then fording another little creek…then I’m ducking under a huge tree that’s fallen across the path…and this is way out east where the water had time to slow and dissipate..! The marshlands are flattened, covered in mud. The farms are half flattened, mud.

I meet with Frank about my experience of the flood–the good (community, coming together, turning devastation to varying degrees to joy, letting go, jumping in to help despite being exhausted, donating) and the bad (neighbors diverting water into one another, fighting, me-firsting, fear, poverty mentality, armchair facebook criticizing) and tell him that for the first time in my life I’m not too sure about getting involved in politics after this. Mob mentality is degraded. I like and enjoy people, am inspired by community–but there’s a lot of fear and neuroses and mob mentality, too, that any leader or servant has to ride and work with. I salute those who jump in.

I bike back and get groceries for the first time in a week–the grocer and another lady recognize me from elephant and they talk about how nature has rerouted golf courses etc back to pre-development days. I mention the marsh and how though flattened it gave the space, because not developed, for all the water to rush through (it’s still waterfalling and flooding in parts of Boulder, days after).

I get my groceries and ask my cashier lady if she made out alright. “Nope. Everything ruined. Buried in sewage.” She smiles.

The guy after me in line talks passionately about how his doctor doesn’t think he should snort kiefer through his nose.

I take main streets back to my home, since the bike path downtown is still covered in rushing water that has pushed many large trees down along with it.

We all made it through alright—what counts most is that we’re just about all alive and well, if sick or tired or stressed or sleepless—anyways, this is just one man’s experience, and there are as many others, and hopefully more inspiring ones, out there!

I’ll add anything as I remember more if it seems at all important.

Forgot one thing: the constant soundtrack of First Aid/FEMA helicopters.

Yours in the vision of enlightened society,

It’s raining again! And flooding. It’s like a bad dream at this point, but community still makes it 1/10th fun. Another two hours pickaxing and digging and helping neighbors–the front yards are rushing rivers or ponds again, 7th Street has built up walls again and we’ve cut drainage into our alleys. It’s endless. And it’s still raining!

Mother Nature! You’re still in charge.

Our driveway’s in our street.

Or was. Bulldozers just took it away, leaving a few hundred pounds of mud on yard.

The #boulderflood cut three-foot-deep ravines in the driveway and even the asphalt alley, where a college neighbor and I worked for 3.5 hours the first evening diverting water from three streams running into neighbors houses all into our alley.

This photo, by friend and ex-elephant Caroline Treadway, is from the next day, when we shoveled and volunteered all day. Free exercise! It was fun, working together to help one another in time of need! Especially daisy-chaining sand and lifting a car and emptying a muddy ruined basement and getting peaches and cookies and love as a thank you.


Just dug and raked neighbors’ yard for an hour. I think I’m getting pretty buff by now Opened up window and turned on fan in basement. Leaving the walls and ditches up as we’re supposed to get more rain, but I have a hard time imagining this can continue. Right now our neighborhood has a dozen tow trucks and bulldozers and dumptrucks on it. Water still coming down 7th street, where the City ingeniously routed a farmer’s ditch 8 feet wide into a 3 foot pipe (which caused a few blocks to get wrecked). Our hood at 8th is pretty swamped, too, given there’s zero drainage from the school, cemetery or Maddie Dean above. Zero.

It’s a tired happy morning when you realize that some folks talk the talk (see convo on my FB wall) and some folks, often quieter and “ordinary”—college kids, neighbors you’ve said hello to for years but not much more—are the real heroes when it comes down to it. A group of college boys walked around yesterday offering help, found that shovels were needed, sent one off to buy 20, and dug for hours.


Final update, I hope. The rain has stopped for most of today, some sprinkles, with 2-3 inches expected tonight and tomorrow. I’m wiped out and half-demoralized, half inspired.

I’ve seen a lot of people with their homes and lives a bit wrecked, and it’s really sad. I’ve also seen a lot of people come together to shovel sand and dirt and rocks and even an 8-foot chunk of road (after sledgehammering) to build walls against the many new rivers and streams hitting our neighborhoods.

Many in Boulder are entirely unaffected, and some of them enjoy going around instagramming folks volunteering and the wreckage. I’d like to shake those folks by the shoulders. So many folks kitted up in their mountain bike outfits or running…you know, of all days, there’s plenty of opportunities for “free exercise,” as I call it—I shoveled dirt and sand and rocks and water for four fun hours, after nearly four yesterday, and am wrecked and tired and happy, too–the volunteers are so fun and inspiring, it’s community at its best. But then you see people fucking jogging or bicycling and you wonder where they forgot to learn that helping strangers feels good. And lemme tell you: shoveling should be the new crossfit, fuck tires. It’s a complete body workout and you’re doing someone a lot of good.

Also after shoveling our driveway (not a single friend showed up to help, but the college party animals helped like heroes) for an hour or so I went and helped my neighbors who have two rivers going through their yards and University Ave–there were college kids who went and bought shovels and came and helped, en masse. So fun and inspiring. We moved a car, 20 guys lifting it out of the water so one guy could tow it out with his pickup. And then helped my sweet neighbors Ron and Rebecca who’ve had a river going through their backyard, straight through their garage–their whole basement is water and mud and we got all their stuff out, much of it wrecked. But there’s a quality of: we’re fine, it’s just stuff, and when community helps it’s fun and touching. Me and 10 college guys all down there covered in mud. Peaches and cookies by way of thank you.

And then there’s The City which doesn’t offer a single drain above our homes, so we get all the run-off of the School and the Cemetery and Maddie Dean park right into our houses. And then there’s the firefighters and police officers and volunteers who’ve worked their hearts out.

If you’re not useful in a time of crisis, you’re missing out.


100 year flood? It’s official.

I’ve been using Facebook to offer updates, photos, you can see my photos on Instagram at @waylonlewis (one of which is featured by NBC, today—also my phone drowned so no more photos for awhile) and spent half of yesterday intro’ing Jeremy from the Denver Post to folks, including our former mayor Will Toor, for their stories. Weather Channel interviewed me today. Basically the deal is that Boulder got three days of rain, non-stop, and the mountains have swamped the city. A few folks have died, roads washed out, hundreds of cars trashed, swept away, thousands of homes and apartments ruined…overall there’s been a half-fun, half-stressful feeling as everyone comes together to dig ditches, create walls, and now recover. We have one more storm coming in today, then it’s good outlook. I spent three hours last night digging ditches with a college neighbor and helped save my house and the neighbors’, which nevertheless got swamped. We diverted much of the water into our driveway, which is now sitting in the middle of the street, the cement and rocks all swept away, creating three foot deep ruts and exposing tree roots and pipes.
Read: Drowning in Boulder for more.

My favorite part of this photo are the six people dining at a picnic table in the middle of the flood–no land around. I got photos of them but my phone drowned.Note: Red loves to swim. He loved the whole thing. As long as he gets out, to play, to eat good food, and to sleep in a cozy dogbed it could be Armageddon for all he cared. He had a great old time. What he hated was being stuck inside mostly for two or three days while it rained. Getting out = fun.


Prior updates:

Ashleigh just came by with vegan healthy jam dandy cookies. And a shovel. She helped me re-light my hot water pilot light (turned off because it’s not safe in wet basement). She’s doing more than “liking” posts on FB (which is small but sweet and morale-lifting, too).

If you’re in Boulder and can help, bring someone something or offer up a room if you have it (you can post here, I’ll get word out when folks ask). We all have friends who’ve lost everything, knee-high or worse in water.

What matters is that we’re safe and happy ourselves. I feel that now, not ever having been through something like this before unlike so many of you!


Mother Nature can not be controlled, but She can be diverted. Three hours of digging ditches and my basement is miraculously still only one inch deep. And we took 50% of the runoff from teh cemetery and the park and school above my house and moved it down my driveway, which is now full of holes as far as four feet deep. A lady asked if I’d pick-axed the cement—I said, no, teh water did that. It’s intense! Half fun, half scary and stressful.

Power out last night until 4 am, phone drowned from working out in the rain last night and biking around with Denver Post’s Jeremy (via Harmony). Boulder is feeling like a real community right now–and I’m feeling sick and tired. And the rain is coming down again.


And that’s after we dug ditches and rolled boulders to move it. It’s scary. There is zero effing drainage up there. My next door neighbor, a contractor, is [insert polite word for impolite word].


Lights and wifi out. My phone is dead so I’m typing this then putting back in bag of rice. A little scary. Front side and backyard is all rushing water.r. Going to sleep and putting candles out. Stay safe friends! #boulderflood
Still pouring out.Just spent three hours digging ditches in m yard and others’ straight up into the dark. My neighbor Christian grabbed one of my two shovels and turned emergency into amateur engineering fun fun and helped. We diverted three streams that were going straight into my house and basement windows (which I’d been bailing out with a bucket to no avail, they’d fill right up again) and into my neighbors Ron & Rebecca’s house and basement and garage (where the water broke the door and nearly swmped their SUV).Insane that the City doesn’t provide any drainage in our alley or above Maddie Dean park or Pleasant above the park and below the cemetery, so we’re getting all the run off from these 30 acres on our half of my block. Meanwhile, the City makes sure we all provide proper drainage for our own homes!Our basements, needless to say, are kayakable.
orry my hands are shaking and don’t seem to be working right, can’t type well!
Thanks so much all! I’ll be sleeping on the second floor and will feel best being at home so I can dig more at 3 am like last night (my neighbors did the same–they busted their nice gate down because it was slowing the stream that is their backyard now, further flooding their basement).
PS: Honestly it’s still pretty fun, stressful but fun. My and our sympathies and thanks should go to those knee deep in their bedrooms and to the many volunteers and firefighters and police officers working ’round the clock.
It’s official: this is Boulder’s ever-looming, extra-long-awaited 100 year flood. And it’s coming down hard.
Photo by James Gritz. Taken in front of my home around noon today. It’s still raining. #boulderflood
No more photos for awhile–my phone just drowned (from soggy pocket and photos taken in rainstorm) and is hopefully recovering in a bowl of rice.
Boulder and the area is half-scared, half excited–houses swamped, a few even wiped out but also folks helping, working together to save homes– #boulderflood
(photos on Instagram @waylonlewis)
This crew, and 100 others, built walls in streets diverting water into rivers (too strong to drive through) saving houses and apartments from flooding. Folks been working since the am. I and my neighbors built walls/cut ditches through our yards. #boulderflood
#boulderflood 6th st is a literal river. Poor Flatirons Farm is now four waterfalls. Dozens of volunteers w shovels. One block from my house which is in a puddle, in middle of four small rivers.
Two days ago, this was a bike path, creek in the middle and grass in the foreground. A few hours ago the creek nearly reached the bottom of the bridge at Broadway.
You know it’s serious when the Trident, open 364 days a year, is closing. #boulderflood
A lot of people are just swamped, water in living rooms and bedrooms. And apparently we’ve got a few days to go. If you have a bedroom open, post about it.
The Boulder creek is 200 feet wide, having taken over the bike path and park on either side of 9th, this morning–this despite water levels being half of last night. #boulderflood
My front yard. You can see the line of mud from how high the flooding got last night. Still raining! #boulderflood we’re in the middle of two streams/rivers coming down from Chautauqua and the parks and all. Lost of drainage ditches and I guess it’s all about how it routes/drains.
Update. CU Boulder is closed, Sheriff has asked folks not to drive into Boulder at all. Folks tubing down streets.Seems like my neighborhood around University Ave (again, on a Hill, my heart to those who are walking through the flood in their bedrooms) got hit pretty hard by rivers coming down from the mountains.he driveway’s washed out (the little rocks are all in the middle of the street), basement flooded, street downslope flooded with cars sitting in water and water right up over the gutters, the neighbors have a waterfall still going through their yard and over their landscaping…and this is with it died down by half. My backyard work in the early am saved a lot of my house–it’s almost comical seeing the 30 foot wall of random shiite I built in my yard to push the water to the side of the house. And Redford is soggy and bored!
My house is an island between two rivers coming down from Chautauqua down the Hill. Just waded around in the street below me. Cars driving by are driving fast through the water, their wheels buried, their wakes throwing waves into the living rooms of the houses downslope. Drive slowly! If at all. Just spent 20, it’s fun in a funny way, arranging wood and anything I could find to move the water to the sides of my house instead of ponding up against it. I don’t want to check my basement again; nothing I can do. My house isn’t too bad I’m sure. Anyone down in the flood plain, they have my love.
Holy wow. I live on “the Hill.” As in, totally safe from floods, right? And our entire street is flooded. I can only imagine downtown around the creek, and those up in the mountains near the burned slopes.And our entire street is flooded right up over our sidewalks. On a hill. Houses on the downslope and upslope–the water is straight up covering the gutters, flooding the raised sidewalks. Houses on downslopes are a few inches from the water (river) (street) flooding into their living rooms. The rain is pouring, as it has been for days. Cars are driving slowly, like boats.This is humbling. Mother Nature! You’re still in charge.
Houses on the downslope side of the Hill, the HILL, now are getting flooded on the first floor when cars (boats) drive by washing waves into their living rooms. I can only imagine the basements.
Tonight makes me think about the importance of permaculture–spread it, slow it, something like that. Concrete everywhere = an inability to store and slow water.
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