Managing Colorado’s Water Resources with Lidar
Colorado is home to almost 6 million residents who enjoy its outdoor beauty. Visitors to Colorado spent over $21 billion in 2017, making tourism a top industry in the state. With tourism, the economy, and population continuing to grow, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) maintains a Strategic Plan for managing Colorado’s water resources. CWBC utilizes a wealth of technologies in their adaptive management to create authoritative data enabling local and federal partners to reduce fatalities and property loss. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) is a scientific data source of precise elevations that drives a variety of engineering and planning models.
A multi-agency coalition consisting of CWCB, Colorado Geological Survey (CGS), Colorado Natural Resource Conservation Service (CO NRCS), Denver International Airport (DIA), Division of Reclamation, Mining Safety (DRMS), Town of Castle Rock, and the USGS co-funded the LiDAR project so that water resources analyses such as debris flow and flood hazard mapping, land management decisions, forest and agricultural planning, infrastructure and development planning, and energy applications can be accomplished. The project area covered all or portions of Weld, Morgan, Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln, Pueblo, Otero, Las Animas, and Huerfano Counties in Eastern Colorado. The project covered 18,348.89 square miles with USGS 3DEP Quality Level 1 and 2 deliverables.
Managing Colorado’s water resources plan and create standardized elevation data, CWCB and other stakeholders actively participated in the Colorado LiDAR Coordination Group. The Group is comprised of over 20 local, state and federal agencies who established the Colorado Statewide LiDAR Collection & Prioritization Plan which has a goal of completing state-wide LiDAR in 5 to 7 years. Since 2015 the Colorado General Assembly has approved LiDAR acquisition funding through the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Senate Bill 15-245 “Concerning the Provision of State Funding for Natural Hazard Mapping.”
Merrick & Company (Merrick) was awarded the Eastern Colorado Light Detection and Ranging project from the CWCB providing high resolution terrain mapping. Merrick planned, managed and acquired LiDAR supporting flood modeling objectives of the CWCB and its funding partners. Merrick used its Optech Galaxy LiDAR sensor and production capacity from its headquarters in Greenwood Village, CO to successfully complete the project within budget and ahead of schedule.
The agricultural industry is a large economic driver within much of the project area with manufacturing and mining also showing growth. According to the Colorado State Demography Office, the population growth in this region is expected to increase an average of 1-2% per year over the next 20 years, with 3% in Elbert County. With development steadily increasing and moving into areas that do not have good terrain data for hazard analysis, completing this project became paramount.
Colorado’s rivers are heavily used for recreation, water supply and agriculture, which drives the state’s economy. Periodically, these rivers have been destructive and deadly. When significant winter snowpack, warmer spring temperatures and rain events occur, floods kill people and destroy property. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, CO reported that flood events between 1864-1999 caused 352 deaths and $4.4 billion dollars of damage. Combining the 2013 flooding figures, Colorado experienced 360 deaths and over 6 billion dollars of property loss.
The USGS 3DEP matching funds enabled a much larger area to be mapped thus increasing the benefits of analyzing critical natural hazard information so that local governments can make better land use decisions, and for state and federal agencies to better plan and prepare for future flood events. As CWCB and its stakeholders fully utilize the LiDAR, mitigating economic impacts and human tragedy associated with flooding is possible. The ability to better plan for future growth and water use can also be realized.
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