ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– It was 50 years ago that 21 people were killed when water tore through the South Platte River basin on the Front Range and poured into the Eastern Plains. The devastating flood also led to the creation of a reservoir system that many hope will prevent that type of tragedy from happening again.

“The damage in many instances is greater than I expected, however the recovery is greater than I expected too,” said Colorado Gov. John Arthur Love in 1965.

The rushing water was created after 14 inches of rain fell near Castle Rock over a period of just four hours. That water caused more than $540 million in damage which also led to some improvements made in the 50 years since the deadly flood.

South Platte River flooding in 1965 (credit: CBS)

South Platte River flooding in 1965 (credit: CBS)

“The flood was half-a-mile wide right through downtown Denver. It took out most of the east-west bridges as well, so it was a major impact for the Denver area,” said USGS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Bob Glancy.

To commemorate the anniversary of the flood, officials with the USGS and NWS met on Tuesday to talk about all the improvements made since then to hopefully prevent a similar event.

Chatfield Reservoir, built in 1972, was one of the major improvements.

Suzanne Paschke, a USGS Hydrologist, used a visual marker to demonstrate just how high the waters of the South Platte reached.

USGS Hydrologist Suzanne Paschke points out the water level during the 1965 South Platte flooding would have reached to top of the pole (credit: CBS)

USGS Hydrologist Suzanne Paschke points out the water level during the 1965 South Platte flooding would have reached to top of the pole (credit: CBS)

“During the 1965 flood we’re estimating that the stage around this would have been about 28 feet above the riverbed, so about the height of this pole,” said Paschke.

With all the rain the Front Range has received this spring, here have been smaller flooding concerns along the South Platte River.

“Homes and the industrial area that were in the flood plain of the South Platte were either not rebuilt or moved so that much of the area is now green space or open space,” said Paschke.

Stream gauges, critical in measuring height and rate of water flow along the river, were placed in the Denver metro area after the flood. There are 20 of them which send back information in real time so officials know immediately what those levels are and whether danger is imminent.

“Additional evacuation could have been implemented at that time, had we had these more sophisticated systems in place,” said Paschke.

Another improvement officials believe has made a big difference is public education about flooding and the importance of the advisories, watches and warnings.

The hope is that another disaster like the South Platte River flood won’t happen again.

“I again can’t say how proud I am of the citizens of Colorado, how they’ve handled this thing,” said Gov. Love after the flood.

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