Commissioner Clark’s concern: Only a trickle of fire-related flooding $
If the Westside and Manitou Springs are spared large chunks of debris slamming down Fountain Creek in high water this summer - a carryover from the Waldo Canyon Fire - the reason could be a major excavation that's planned upstream.
But County Commissioner Sallie Clark is worried that the project is just a drop in the proverbial bucket, as far as fire-related flooding issues are concerned.
The costs for the Fountain Creek work are being aided by a $205,000 federal grant. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) shows that's only 12 percent of what it would take to fix what the fire did to the terrain in the Ute Pass area last summer.
The city is in a similar situation, with the NRCS estimating its funding at 11 percent of the need. And Colorado Springs Utilities is looking for funding help to re-bury parts of a major backup water line, exposed in places by a post-fire rainstorm, in a mountainous area leading from the Rampart Range Reservoir.
These entities recently united with each other and Larimer County - which had endured the High Park Fire last summer - in an appeal to Congress for $19.8 million in total emergency assistance which the two areas would share almost equally.
Clark understands that some residents may not feel that flooding is an urgent concern, because of a continuing drought, the time of year and the fact that the fire occurred months ago. “But the truth is, we're sitting ducks, is what we are,” she said.
She offered comparative numbers to explain the runoff difference in drainage areas affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire: An inch or more of rain in an hour, which would have amounted to a 10-year storm before, now will be “equivalent to a 100-year flood,” she said.
The county is taking the lead on the Fountain Creek drainage because most of the land west of Manitou is unincorporated.
Dave Lethbridge, who has the title of recovery coordinator for El Paso County, is organizing the use of the NRCS grant, with input from co-sponsors Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls.
“My main focus is the gulches up Ute Pass and problems down through Manitou Springs,” Lethbridge said.
Added Clark, “We're trying to slow the water down, and debris is a big issue.”
Similar concerns have been identified in the Camp Creek and South Creek drainages, which also run through burn areas before coming down into areas of western Colorado Springs.
The excavation site will be on private land. The exact location is still being decided. The plan is to create a “large sediment and debris trap,” Lethbridge said. One spot, which he called the “ideal location,” already has a basin along the creek that would just need to be deepened for the purpose.
Such massive dug-out places in other drainages have proven effective by catching and stopping sizeable objects that otherwise might wash downstream in a flood and endanger lives and property, Lethbridge explained.
Sediment can cause other problems, by clogging culverts and getting into water systems, Clark said.
The potential for Fountain Creek flooding is higher this year because the fire killed vegetation and left the ground scorched and hard over considerable acreage north of it.
The continuing drought is also adding to the ground's hardness, Clark noted. “We're very concerned that a relatively small storm in the spring could put life safety and homes and businesses at risk,” she said.
The Westside would benefit from debris protection as well, particularly in No Man's Land (west of 31st Street), where numerous buildings are in the flood plain. “Anything close to Fountain Creek is at risk,” Clark said. “Obviously, as the water flows downstream, it will slow down somewhat, but it is a big concern.”
Other area needs/costs identified by the NRCS include mulching and seeding over 1,000 acres, additional erosion control, channel protection in 20 locations (one being the exposed Springs Utilities backup line, which carries water to 200,000 residents), other sediment/debris control structures, flood diversion structures at 20 sites and flood protection for 50 homes and businesses.
Westside Pioneer article