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Facilities / Parking

CSU flood planning has long history

August 6, 2014

Facilities Management work to minimize impacts of flooding.

Flooding on the Oval on September 6, 1938.Colorado’s weather is known to be tough to predict, and it has been especially quirky this summer. With recent rainfall, many people may be nervous about potential flooding.

One of the most memorable floods in campus history is the flood of 1997, when water from storms caused $150 million in damage. Facilities Management pumped 5 million gallons of water out of 39 damaged campus buildings.

Since then, the university has worked to better protect campus buildings and people from floodwaters, building floodwalls, berms and other systems to keep water from causing as much damage to campus as it did in 1997, and signaling a change in facilities planning.

With the flood in 1997 and flooding last summer, Fort Collins has experienced five 100-year floods in the last 100 years. How is that possible, you ask? Predicting 100-year and 500-year floods isn’t only about time; it is about probability. Calculations are made based on the probability of the size of a storm needed to create flooding conditions that are so unusual they are only likely once in 100 or 500 years.

778 basketballs a minute

When Fort Collins experiences a 100-year flood, the flow of water entering campus is impressive: on a average day, water flows through the Poudre River at about 200 cubic feet per second. During a 100-year flood, at its peak, water flow onto campus from areas west of campus can reach 778 cubic feet per second; a cubic foot is about the size of basketball, so that’s the equivalent of 778 basketballs a second entering campus. Typically, water enters campus by roaring down Elizabeth Street, resembling a river as it is compressed into a narrow path by topography, streets and buildings.

While the crest of the flow may come and go quickly, it can take days for water to leave the low areas of campus, which are now part of a flood plan design to serve as detention-pound areas and include the Oval, intramural fields, lagoon area and Engineering parking lot. The university and city share information and flood plans, and work together to understand how development and changes to buildings and streets around and on campus may change flood mitigation.

“The university has made significant progress in planning for floods since 1997, and even more since 1951, when the campus was hit by a big flood and there were no plans to accommodate water drainage,” said Susanne Cordery-Cotter, an environmental engineer in Facilities Management. “Campus was built on agricultural fields, which created our own flooding issues. But, after 1951, President Morgan went to the state to ask for money to create and install stormwater systems on campus – and that was the university’s first real act toward flood planning.”

Flood planning work continues

Today, work on campus continues to look at improving current flood planning. But protecting campus from a flood that is more significant than a 100-year flood, such as a 500-year flood, isn’t practical or economically feasible for the university, says Cordery-Cotter, so employees and students still need to be prepared.  

“When a flood warning is issued, seek higher ground, don’t drive through water, and have an emergency kit with anything you might need that’s ready to go,” Cordery-Cotter said. “And, purchase flood insurance. University insurance doesn’t cover personal items for students or employees, and most insurance policies require additional coverage for flooding.”

Did you know?

  • Employees should purchase personal flood coverage; university insurance does not cover personal items in offices.
  • Homeowner’s insurance often excludes flood damage; special policies may be needed.
  • Students who live in residence halls need a renter’s flood coverage policy; university insurance does not cover their property.
  • Students who live off campus need flood insurance through a renter’s policy.

Get flood alerts!

  • Students and employees can sign up for emergency text messages about situations that impact campus at
  • Anyone who lives in Larimer County can sign up for LETA, a local alert system that provides emergency warnings at


Contact: Dell Rae Ciaravola
Phone: 970-491-6009