Seeing the Devastation First Hand

There are many roles a Regional Administrator must play in the daily work of protecting the environment and human health. Recently, I played what I consider to be one of my most important roles: listening to and assisting the citizens in our region as we recover from devastating flooding.

The small mountain town has been cut off because of Boulder County flood. FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams deployed to the state to help in Search and Rescue operations. Photo credit: Steve Zumwalt FEMA

This small mountain town has been cut off because of Boulder County flood. FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams deployed to the state to help in Search and Rescue operations. Photo credit: Steve Zumwalt FEMA

I saw firsthand how an extreme weather event can impact an entire state. Seven lives were lost in the floods in Colorado this year. Over 2,000 square miles spanning 17 counties have been affected. Numerous roads are destroyed and thousands of homes are lost. It’s a sobering reminder that such extreme events are predicted to become even more frequent because of the changing climate.

In the aftermath of the flooding, EPA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as with the state of Colorado and local groups to assess how this flooding has impacted drinking water and waste water.

It is imperative, however, that EPA work with other agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector to mitigate future impacts from climate change as much as possible. Proper planning and implementation of plans can help mitigate impacts, like working with industry to implement emergency oil and gas well shutdown plans.

No matter how we mitigate, some climate change impacts are already occurring, and that is where EPA’s role in helping to manage drinking water, waste water, hazardous waste, oil and gas infrastructure becomes even more vital than ever. As Coloradoans recover from this flood, it is important that we build in climate resiliency to future events into our cleanup and rebuilding efforts. In June of this year, we released a draft Climate Adaptation Implementation Plan for Region 8, which explains how EPA is integrating climate adaptation into our planning. You can read the implementation plans for every EPA program and region here.

It has been over 2 months since the floods occurred and many recovery efforts are underway:

  • Over 838 state and federal workers are working closely to address the ongoing needs of all Coloradans impacted by the disaster.
  • 100% of roadways are now open.
  • $15M was raised from the Red Cross, United Way and HelpColoradoNow.

My heart goes out to all Coloradoans affected by these floods and I hope we can learn from this experience to be better prepared in the future for such catastrophic events.

Shaun McGrath is the administrator of EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver, where he directs the Agency’s operations in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and 27 tribal nations. Shaun has extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. He joined EPA from Wheelhouse Associates, where he worked to help local and state governments advance clean energy and environmental goals. Previously, Shaun served on the Boulder City Council, and was elected as mayor of Boulder in 2007. He spent more than a decade working with the Western Governors’ Association, serving as a program director on a number of environmental issues including climate adaptation, water and drought.

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