Fountain Creek: Waldo Canyon burn scar still a hazard

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar
Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The threat of flash floods continues to linger in the minds of western El Paso County residents.

That worry loomed large for a group that met last week in Green Mountain Falls. They were focused on what might happen if torrential rains pound the Waldo Canyon burn scar and strike areas further upstream this summer.

Their concern has precedent. Thunderstorms on the barren, burned out slopes northeast of U.S. Highway 24 and in Woodland Park have filled Fountain Creek to its edges the last few years, leaving residents of Cascade, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls spending each spring stacking sandbags and cleaning up after a series of floods.

Residents of those towns find themselves repeatedly asking the same question:

“What are they doing upstream?”

[…]

Those downstream remember a brief but powerful storm that hit Woodland Park in August 2013 and sent “a wall of water” pouring down Fountain Creek.

In an interview with The Gazette, Bill Alspach outlined years of planning and channel reconstruction that he said the Teller County city at the headwaters of Fountain Creek have been doing.

“We understand the creek,” Alspach said. “We’ve committed ourselves to being good stewards of the headwaters and good stewards to our neighbors. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Mayor-elect Jane Newberry said there is a “general feeling” in Green Mountain Falls that growth in Woodland Park has led to more storm runoff and a greater threat that Fountain Creek could pour over its banks and threaten bridges, homes and businesses in the communities below.

During the Aug. 22, 2013 storm, two bridges were damaged in Green Mountain Falls and several homes flooded in Green Mountain Falls and Cascade.

Newberry said she has “seen the city leaders in Woodland Park” focus on updating their development requirements to include a priority on drainage mitigation.

Alspach echoed that, saying that Woodland Park began its foundation of “stormwater stewardship” when the city council passed a resolution in 1994 requiring strict criteria for runoff retention.

In 2011 Alspach updated city code to require developers to include designs that slow runoff and reduce effect on Fountain Creek. He said that entails using landscaping, ponds and other features to force water into the ground before it flows toward the channel.

Alspach said businesses with large impervious parking lots and homeowners need to be aware of runoff on their property.

“Everybody contributes to impervious areas,” he said.

In 2014 Woodland Park partnered with Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials to have consistency within the watershed, Alspach said. Woodland Park has since rebuilt the west and east forks of Fountain Creek through town with help from CDOT and the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Alspach said the water now flows through culverts that include several features to help slow the flow.

Now, the city is focused on the next phase, which runs from the convergence of those forks to Aspen Garden Way just east of the Safeway store. Alspach said the city will begin taking bids from contractors on Wednesday to rebuild that portion of the creek. The work will include clearing the channel of debris and installing cutoff walls, boulders and other elements to control flow speeds.

The creek further east is beyond Woodland Park city limits and the responsibility falls to Teller County and private landowners.

Bryan Kincaid, who manages floodplain concerns for Teller County, said consultants who have worked with Woodland Park are in the midst of a stream bed stability assessment from the edge of Woodland Park to the El Paso County line.

“Everybody knows about the feud that has started between everybody downstream and Woodland Park,” Kincaid said. “We’re stuck right in the middle.”

Roads for private landowners along Crystola Road and near Crystola Canyon Road have been closed during heavy rains that send water churning down the usually dry creek bed.

Kincaid said Teller County maintains creek crossings at County Road 21, Creekside Drive and Crystola Canyon Road. The rest of the creek is on private land, he said. Alspach added that while Woodland Park and Teller County seek federal and state aid to help pay for channel maintenance, it’s a challenge for private residents to find money to maintain the creek on their property.

“They own the creek,” Alspach said, noting that landowners can partner with volunteer agencies like the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute to help keep the channel safe.

CUSP and RMFI have worked with residents all along Fountain Creek and other drainages plagued by flash flooding since the June 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. The more than 18,000-acre blaze left mountain slopes west of Colorado Springs without vegetation needed to help slow runoff flows during heavy rains. Continued concerns four years later prompted the Green Mountain Falls preparedness meeting.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Anne McNamara):

Flooding is a threat to historic buildings across the country, and most communities are not prepared to protect their valuable resources.

Those are the findings of a new study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, and co-authored by professors at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Kentucky.

“Historic resources are a big part of the local economy,” said Andrew Rumbach, Assistant Professor of Planning and Design at the University of Colorado Denver. “So losing those resources is not only bad for the character and identity of the place, but it’s also bad for the local economy.”

Rumbach says Manitou Springs in Colorado is a classic example of an historic tourist town that has done a good job at preservation.

With help from the state, the town has put millions of dollars into improvements to direct water away from historic structures.

The town, named for its mineral water springs, has experience significant flooding in recent years. The flood waters caused more than $100,000 in damage to one of Manitou’s oldest buildings, an inn named The Cliff House at Pikes Peak.

“The Cliff House was here before the flood maps were developed,” said Paul York, the general manager. “You can’t exactly move The Cliff House’s location, it’s right here!”

The hotel has built flood walls to protect its parking structure. They say the wall can be deployed by a single person in less than 30 seconds, in case there is little warning about an oncoming flood.

“It’s come to this,” said York, as he demonstrated how to seal off the flood wall.

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