Published: May 15, 2016

By: Brittany Huner

Ever since the beginning of the towns of Auraria and Denver, the nearby Cherry Creek and South Platte River have created problems for the town with numerous floods.

Denver's "First Flood," May 1864

The first flood recorded in Denver occurred in May 1864 when heavy rain caused both Cherry Creek and the South Platte River to flood. Nineteen citizens died and the flood caused several thousands of dollars of damage. This was a large sum of money to the city at the time.

1864 Cherry Creek Flood

Picture of 1864 Denver flood with several buildings and high water. Denver during the 1864 Cherry Creek flood. Photo courtesy of the W.G.  Chamberlain Collection at Denver Public Library. 

 

Photo of Denver's First Flood

Photo of flooded Cherry Creek in Denver in 1864. People watching the water from banks of the flood during the 1864 Cherry Creek Flood. Photo courtesy of the George Wakely Collection at Denver Public Library. Denver's "First Flood," May 1864.

 ​​Early Attempt at Prevention: The Flood of July 1878

The flood of 1878 resulted in Denver's first attempt to take major action for flood prevention. Denver attempted to turn Cherry Creek in a more western direction. Unfortunately, an injunction from Arapahoe County terminated the early flood prevention attempt.

Flood of 1912

After a heavy storm on the afternoon of July 14, 1912, the water level of Cherry Creek rose dramatically and a heavy rush of water overtook the area. Two people who lived near the creek died and there was extensive property damage, mainly to warehouses and merchants whose goods were stored in basements near Cherry Creek. After the 1912 flood, city officials established the 1912 Flood Commission to investigate the floods and recommend steps for the city to take for future flood prevention

Castlewood Dam after 1933

Picture of destroyed Castlewood Dam after the1933 break. Castlewood Dam after the 1933 break. Photo courtesy of the Harry Rhoads Collection at Denver Public Library.

 

Castlewood Dam Finally Breaks: The 1933 Flood

One of the main concerns the 1912 Flood Commission expressed was the condition of the Castlewood Dam. The Denver Water Storage Company built the Castlewood Dam in 1890 and the dam leaked and frequently fell into disrepair. On August 3, 1933, the Castlewood Dam finally burst and flooded the Denver area. The flood caused approximately $1.7 million in damages for the city. Denver never rebuilt Castlewood Dam but constructed the Cherry Creek Dam to replace it in 1946.

The Need for More Dams: The 1965 Flood

Much like Denver's first flood in 1864, the flood in 1965 was the result of high waters in both the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. The 1965 flood caused approximately $540 million in damages to the city and the deaths of twenty-one people. After the 1965 flood, Denver Water built two more reservoirs at Chatfield and Bear Creek. The Future of Flooding in Denver and Auraria As long as the South Platte River and Cherry Creek exist, there will be flooding in the Denver and Auraria area. The city has taken numerous actions to prevent catastrophic flooding, including building several new dams and reservoirs. With every disastrous flood, the community has banded together in the wake of tragedy and grown stronger.

The Future of Flooding in Denver and Auraria

As long as the South Platte River and Cherry Creek exist, there will be flooding in the Denver and Auraria area. The city has taken numerous actions to prevent catastrophic flooding, including building several new dams and reservoirs. With every disastrous flood, the community has banded together in the wake of tragedy and grown stronger.