Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fall River Flood

In 1903, a group of farmers built an earthen dam across Roaring River at the mouth of Lawn Lake high in the mountains above their farms near Loveland, Colorado. The dam was approximately 35 miles away, almost 11,000 feet above sea level, and nearly 6000 feet above the valley floor. This reservoir of water enabled them to irrigate their crops, and it enlarged and enhanced already beautiful Lawn Lake. For years the dam did its job and the farmers enjoyed the benefit of having a ready supply of water for their land.

Fast-forward to the morning of July 15th, 1982. Early that bright, sunny morning, the dam broke, sending the water behind it rushing downstream at an estimated 18,000 cubic feet per second. Gathering trees and boulders in its crashing current, the cascade reached and overwhelmed another dam at Crystal Lake, causing it to fail too. The normal courses of Roaring River and Fall River below it were dwarfed by the new channels cut by the 25-foot high, 100-foot wide wall of water and debris. The churning, now-muddy rampage destroyed 18 bridges, a hydroelectric plant, a fish hatchery (killing some 90,000 fish), and worst of all, it killed 3 campers along its destructive path into and through the lovely town of Estes Park where dozens of businesses and homes were damaged and destroyed. You can see the dramatic scar left by the flood in this picture taken almost 25 years later. (Click here to see an aerial view looking down on Lawn Lake--you can see the deep cut below where the water poured down the valley)

So what happened? Was this just a freak accident, unforeseeable and unpreventable?


In the years after the dam was built, no one maintained the road that had been built to facilitate the construction of the dam. It gradually eroded back into the mountain. Eventually, people got tired of the 6-mile hike from the nearest road to do inspections of the dam, and the inspector's visits grew infrequent. Meanwhile, pipes in the dam were slowly corroding and the time-bomb was ticking.

What was originally of great benefit to the whole area, ultimately resulted in destruction and death. The actions and inaction of a few key people produced a devastating impact on unsuspecting citizens and tourists in a completely different town, more than 30 miles away. No one intended for this to happen, but by not INTENDING to prevent it, they caused the disaster.

I learn something from this.

I am a little bit frightened by this.

I am challenged by this story and this picture, to look around and see if there are things in my life, my family, my community, my country, that I have been neglecting. Where do I need to do an inspection? Where have I been lazy about keeping up the appropriate maintenance? Where have I been so content to enjoy the benefits of something that I have forgotten to do the work that will enable those benefits to continue? Where have I been so focused on my own needs that I have neglected to care for the well-being of others? Is there a dam upstream that needs my attention?

Paul wrote to young pastor, Timothy, speaking of his gifts and calling:

"Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them,
so that everyone may see your progress.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do,
you will save both yourself and your hearers."

What I do with my gifts and areas of calling and responsibility really matters. It doesn't affect just me and my own sense of purpose and success , but also the people God has placed downstream of my influence. I must not neglect what I've been given to do.

Father, I pray that in all of our lives, we would beware our "Fall Rivers" and the dams that could break if we don't tend them properly. Help us to be diligent in our responsibilities, given wholly to them so we don't cause the ruin of others!

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