Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Ask Cam

Spring Creek Flood of 1997

July 29, 2011

Looking west from the Lory Student Center. Water covers what once was an expanse of lawn.Question:

Hi, Cam. Were you on campus when the flood of 1997 hit?

Cam’s answer:

Yes. A tremendous disaster, and worse because it happened not even a month before fall classes were scheduled to start. Hard to believe it's been 14 years already.

I dug up some stories on the flood, which caught national attention.

From Today@CSU, July 2007

On the evening of July 28, 1997, a flash flood ripped through Fort Collins and the CSU campus without warning.

From about 8:30 to 10 p.m., extremely heavy rain, of a magnitude rarely experienced in northern Colorado, was localized over an area of a few square miles centered not far from the corner of Drake Road and Overland Trail in southwest Fort Collins.

Streets on the west side of town became fast-flowing creeks churning with muddy water. Stormwater facilities were overwhelmed by the torrent, and already full irrigation ditches topped over, flooding countless homes.

Water roared across the CSU campus, breaking through doors and windows to inundate Lory Student Center, the recently renovated Morgan Library, and headquarters of the police department. The Oval turned into a lake full of debris.

A damp, cloudy morning of July 29 greeted campus with damages almost beyond imagining.

Morgan Library after the July flood.All for one, one for all

CSU sustained more than $120 million in damages only 28 days before fall classes were to start. The university's employees faced a daunting task of reopening with virtually every textbook for the fall semester destroyed, massive damage to the library and LSC, displaced faculty and departments, and significant damage to many other buildings on campus.

In addition, many professors lost their life's work when their offices flooded, destroying years of research and collections. One professor lost 2,200 books stored in his office, 80 percent of which were out of print.

Spirit of community and teamwork

While many people experienced irrevocable losses on campus and in Fort Collins, and five people in town were killed, the university's spirit of community and teamwork created opportunities out of the crisis.

At the 10-year mark of the flood, the university had:

  • a nationally-renowned library and interlibrary-loan program,
  • a state-of-the art amateur precipitation monitoring  network system in 19 states,  
  • a more robust emergency management team and plan,
  • an updated, accessible, and attractive student center,
  • a bookstore that more than doubled its previous capacity,  
  • improved campus landscapes to protect CSU from another serious flood, and
  • a national expert and laboratory specializing in mold mitigation.