New FEMA floodplain maps bring changes to Morgan County — The Fort Morgan Times

Proposed Changes to Effective Floodplain in Morgan County, Colorado. (Red = increase, Green = decrease, blue = no change.)
Proposed Changes to Effective Floodplain in Morgan County, Colorado. (Red = increase, Green = decrease, blue = no change.)

From The Fort Morgan Times (Stephanie Alderton):

If the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s latest floodplain maps go into effect in 2017, Morgan County’s flood risks will look a little different.

As a part of the National Flood Insurance Program, Morgan County’s highest flood risk areas are shown on maps created by FEMA, which help determine property values and insurance rates. For the first time in about 35 years, FEMA has released a new preliminary floodplain map for the county. It introduces several changes to the old map, making the floodplain smaller in some areas and bigger in others.

The map labels areas that are at low, moderate and high risk from flooding, based on the flow rates of nearby rivers. Properties in high-risk areas have higher flood insurance rates and more building restrictions. The last update to Morgan County’s floodplain map was in 1989, while the maps for specific towns like Brush haven’t been updated since 1981.

For some parts of Morgan County, the new flood map isn’t big news. The city of Fort Morgan has always been too elevated to be greatly affected by the floodplain, and Bradley Curtis, the Engineering and Public Works director, said that hasn’t changed.

“It has minimal effects,” he said. “Not a whole lot of developments are affected apart from Riverview Park and the area down by Maverick’s, which we knew about already.”

Parts of Fort Morgan were flooded during the summer, but that was due to heavy rainfall rather than an overflowing river. The FEMA maps only take overflow from nearby rivers into account when predicting flood risks.

For other towns, the re-mapping is a bonus. Much of the town of Wiggins was in the floodplain under the old map, but now it’s considered a low-risk area. Trustee JoAnne Rohn-Cook said she’s delighted by the new map.

“Since the last survey was done, a dike was built west of the town, so I think that helped,” she said.

From The Brush News-Tribune:

For more information about updates to local FEMA floodplain maps, go to http://www.fema.gov/local-official-survey-findings-flood-risk, call the Morgan County Planning and Zoning office at 970-542-3526, or visit the following sites:

Wiggins – http://www.wigginsco.com (click on the link at the bottom left of the homepage).

Brush – http://www.brushcolo.com (click on the “floodplain updates” link).

Morgan County – http://www.co.morgan.co.us (click on the links under “Important Public Announcements”).

Questions remain on use of rain barrels — The #Colorado Springs Gazette #coleg

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jim Flynn):

At the heart of this [water law] system, and protected by a section of the Colorado Constitution, is a concept called “prior appropriation.” The way this works is that some water users have priority over other water users, with the effect that, in times of scarcity, holders of senior water rights receive their water and holders of junior water rights do not. The seniority of water rights is generally based on a first-to-use-wins concept, meaning the most senior (and therefore the most valuable) water rights go back to the 1800s.

Any upstream activity even remotely threatening to downstream water rights holders is cause for great alarm. This came to light in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature when a bill (House Bill 16-1005) was introduced intended to regulate the collection of rainwater in barrels.

What finally emerged, after heated debate, is a new law allowing rainwater running off the rooftop of a residential property containing no more than four dwelling units to be collected in no more than two barrels having a combined storage capacity of no more than 110 gallons. These barrels must have a sealable lid; the water from the barrels can only be used at the property where the water is collected; and it can only be used for outdoor purposes “including irrigation of lawns and gardens.” The water “shall not be used for drinking water or indoor household purposes.” (Whether the water could be used for bathing activities if conducted outdoors is not clear.)

The state engineer, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” is instructed to provide information on his agency’s website about the permitted and prohibited uses of rain barrels and water collected therein. The state engineer is also given authority to curtail rain barrel usage in situations where it might impair the rights of downstream water users. And the state engineer is required to diligently study whether rain barrel usage is causing injury to holders of downstream water rights and to report back to the Legislature on this issue by no later than March 1, 2019.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also gets into the act. That agency is instructed, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” to develop “best practices” intended to address nonpotable usage of collected rainwater and issues relating to disease and pest control. When and if such best practices are developed, they are to be posted on the department’s website and on the state engineer’s website. Alternatively, the state engineer’s website can provide a link back to the department’s website.

Finally, knowing the penchant of homeowners living in common-interest ownership communities to fight over almost everything, the Legislature added language to the new law addressing rain barrel usage in these communities. An owners association in a common-interest ownership community cannot prohibit rooftop water collection using rain barrels. The association can, however, “impose reasonable aesthetic requirements that govern the placement or external appearance of a rain barrel.” So, for any of you who have the misfortune of serving on your neighborhood architectural control committee, it’s time to develop design guidelines for rain barrels.

9/12/2013: Phenomenal rain reports coming in from all over Boulder County — Coyote Gulch

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

I made the mistake of checking my Twitter feed overnight on the 12th. Couldn’t get back to sleep. What a set of storms. Aurora got almost as much rain as Boulder County. Lots of flooding.

@OmahaUSACE: Public meetings scheduled to discuss Cherry Creek Dam studies

Cherry Creek Dam looking south
Cherry Creek Dam looking south

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Eileen Williamson):

Three public meetings to provide an update on the status of two studies taking place at Cherry Creek Dam are scheduled for the week of September 20.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host meetings to provide a status update on alternatives under consideration to address risks from extreme storm events associated with Cherry Creek Dam including a study to modify the dam’s water control plan.
The meetings will be held at the following times and locations:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 6 – 8 p.m.
    Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church
    Rooms 112/113 (Main Building)
    10150 E. Belleview Avenue
    Englewood, CO 80111
  • Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Virginia Village Library
    1500 S. Dahlia Street
    Denver, CO 80222
  • Thursday, Sept. 22 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Aurora Municipal Center
    City Café
    15151 E. Alameda Parkway
    Aurora, CO 80012
  • The public meetings will include a presentation and an open house to provide the public an opportunity to ask questions about Cherry Creek Dam and the alternatives being presented and considered as part of the Dam Safety Modification Study and Water Control Plan Modification Study.

    Meeting materials will be made available online following the meetings at http://go.usa.gov/cQ7hP.

    Background: Cherry Creek Dam and Reservoir is located in the southeast Denver metropolitan area on Cherry Creek, 11.4 miles upstream of its confluence with the South Platte River.

    In 2005, (post-Katrina) USACE began screening its dams (approximately 700 across the U.S.) to determine each dam’s risk level. Cherry Creek Dam received an elevated risk rating primarily because of the large downstream population and the potential for overtopping during an extremely rare precipitation event.

    A dam safety modification study began in 2013 and is being conducted in accordance with USACE policy as described in Engineering Regulation 1110-2-1156 “Safety of Dams – Policy and Procedures.” An Environmental Impact Statement is also being prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended.

    Fountain Creek stormwater mitigation update

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    While the [Fountain Creek Watershed Drainage, Flood Control and Greenway District] has limped along for seven years with more hopes than funding, now it’s flexing some muscle after an injection of $10 million from Colorado Springs Utilities. It was the first of five such payments through 2020 that are part of the city’s deal with Pueblo County for the city’s Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, completed in April.

    But so much needs to be done that the money quickly will be absorbed into a long list of projects, leaving the district, again, penniless.

    “What we’re going to find out is that $50 million is much less than what we need for that project list,” says district executive director Larry Small, former Springs vice mayor.

    The district has conducted a host of studies over the years and done a few projects, including sediment reduction near the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of downtown Pueblo. Thus far, its projects have been largely funded through grants from such agencies as the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Now, with the Utilities money, it wants to take on the herculean task of trying to reshape the creek.

    First up is a bank restoration project along the Masciantonio Trust farm just south of the El Paso County-Pueblo County line where, over the years, the creek’s rushing waters have carved away a massive amount of land, leaving sand bars behind and sending tons of sediment down the creek every year.

    “The creek has seriously eroded the bank there,” Small says. “It’s taken 12 acres of farm land.”

    The project’s engineering study was launched in July, and a construction contract will be awarded next year, he says, with a budget of $2.5 million.

    It’s unclear if the project actually will restore those 12 acres, because that would require a huge amount of fill material, Small says.

    “We are looking at an option to restore the creek to the 1955 channel,” he says, “but we have to figure out how to deal with the hole that would leave behind the wall we would have to build.”

    The problem, he adds, is that Young’s Hollow flows into the creek at that point and can carry a water flow of up to 6,000 cubic feet per second during heavy storms, so the creek has to be equipped to handle that volume.

    “This is a challenge,” he says.

    Two more projects for the farm also are planned, he says, noting, “That whole 4-mile stretch is seriously eroded.”

    Another project will assess stability and sediment along the entire 51 miles of the creek from Colorado Springs to its confluence with the Arkansas.

    “That’s going to generate a project list where we need to do bank restoration,” Small says. Started in May this year, the study will wind up in March and be followed by an evaluation of flood control alternatives, which includes a dam.

    That study, also started in May, will address how much land would be required, how a dam would function, what property the district would need to acquire and what permitting processes would be necessary, among other things.

    This month, the district began compiling a drainage criteria manual, which will enable the board to evaluate development that takes place within the district and recommend requirements to the jurisdictions at issue, such as city of Fountain, city of Colorado Springs, Pueblo County or El Paso County.

    So as Small says, the district has quickly picked up the pace this year.

    “As I told some people recently, on May 31, I had one project, and on June 1, I had five projects,” he says.

    The biggest single project undertaken by the district so far is dredging the levees east of Pueblo at a total cost of $5.25 million. Funded with additional money from Springs Utilities, Pueblo County and Pueblo’s stormwater enterprise fund, the project will be overseen by the Fountain Creek district, which also will loan $1.25 million to Pueblo to be repaid in 2018, Small says.

    The project will begin this year — the district hopes to let the contract this fall — and be finished next year, if all parties sign off on the plan, which is expected, he says. The dredging will start at 18th Street and extend to the creek’s confluence with the river. The job will include removing vegetation and two railroad piers that act as debris traps.

    The source of money for projects when the $50 million from Springs Utilities runs out isn’t clear. Small says the board, in coming years, will start researching a ballot measure for a property tax to fund the district. Even after all the projects are built, money will be needed for maintenance, he says.

    The district covers all of El Paso and Pueblo counties. One mill would generate roughly $6.85 million from El Paso County taxpayers and $1.6 million from Pueblo County taxpayers, for a total of about $8.5 million a year. (Assessed value of property in El Paso County totals $6.85 billion, and in Pueblo County, $1.66 billion.)

    About $8 million a year is a lot for a district that’s never spent more than $480,000 in any single year so far and relied on grants from various agencies and member contributions from Green Mountain Falls, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, El Paso County and Pueblo County.

    Any infusion of cash, though, is subject to revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, so in early 2015 the district created a companion agency, the Fountain Creek Watershed Water Activity Enterprise. The enterprise is exempt from TABOR revenue caps, Small says, as long as less than 10 percent of its funding comes from state and local grants. The $10 million annual payments for five years from Utilities are not considered grants, he says.

    But the Utilities’ payments, while large, won’t fix all the creek’s problems, says Greg Lauer, Fountain city councilor and district board member.

    “When you look at the substantial need for projects and maintenance, these numbers barely scratch the surface,” he says. Lauer predicts the board will begin discussing a tax measure next year, though it’s unlikely it would appear on the 2017 ballot.

    For one thing, he notes, the board needs “legal clarification.” For example, would a tax measure approved by voters in El Paso County but not in Pueblo County result in the tax being applied only in El Paso County, or would it be considered defeated? Would a tax approved by a majority of voters, regardless of their place of residency, result in it being added to the tax rolls in both counties?

    Regardless, Lauer says it’s hard to argue against ongoing funding when the board is reminded regularly by landowners along the creek about flood damage.

    For now, though, the board is eager to get long-awaited projects underway with the money it has.

    “We are so beyond excited,” Lauer says. “It’s been a long time coming.”

    Agricultural drain replacement project a top priority for the Grand Valley Drainage District

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    It’s when storms break uphill that the Buthorn Drain becomes overwhelmed and the network of pipes turns from a pastoral conveyance to a pressurized system for which it was never designed.

    “I’ve seen that manhole cover blow two feet off the ground,” said Bruce Palmer, who has lived for 51 years near the manhole cover on Walnut Court, through which the running water can be heard. “I’ve stood here in 9-inch engineer-type boots and the water was running over the top of those boots.”

    The Buthorn Drain runs beneath the property of 50 or 60 residences, through a mobile-home park, beneath businesses and streets, and below — and through — a park.

    It runs below Westlake Park downhill from West Middle School and then flows above and below a hill steep enough that concrete piles, or baffles, have been built in its path to slow floodwaters. Those same waters have dug beneath the baffles, reducing their ability to slow the floods.

    The Grand Valley Drainage District made the Buthorn Drain its top priority and is expecting to spend $5 million on repairs and improvements to it, beginning with a close look at the system by Eric Krch of the engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates.

    The first step in his study is to make sure that the drain still can handle its main job, then move into the question of whether it could handle a [1% probability flood].

    It almost surely will not. Work already done has shown the system to be “severely undersized” for the 922-acre watershed served by the Buthorn Drain.

    From there, Krch will draw up one or more solutions he’ll propose to the drainage district…

    Businesses, local governments and other property owners, including churches and nonprofits, are charged $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — those roofs, driveways, parking lots and so on. The district also has a $500 per 2,500 feet of impervious surface fee on new construction.

    In all, the charges are expected to generate $2.7 million this year.

    The fees, however, have earned the ire of Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which have challenged them in Mesa County District Court, contending that they amount to a tax that was imposed without a vote as required by the Colorado Constitution.

    A judge, however, has ruled in denying a preliminary injunction that the charges are fees and not subject to the voter-approval requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

    A full hearing on the matter remains to be scheduled — attorneys next week are to set a schedule — even as the district is moving ahead with the Buthorn Drain by hiring Souder Miller & Associates.

    County and chamber officials say they don’t question the need for improvements such as those contemplated for the Buthorn Drain, but say they prefer to tackle drainage issues — and there are plenty — on a larger scale, using the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority.

    The authority encompasses an area 10 times larger than that of the district. It takes in lands north of the river that are outside the boundaries of the drainage district, as well as land south of the river.

    The county also questions the leadership of the drainage district, characterizing the three-member board as self-perpetuating.

    The election of Cody Davis to the drainage district board this year was the first contest in decades.

    All of those issues are beside the point for Ryan, who contends that the drainage district board is dealing properly with issues inside district boundaries, which happen to include much of the most heavily populated parts of the county, as well as much of its commercial and industrial base.

    Dealing with the Buthorn Drain means dealing with “a major public health hazard,” Krch said.

    When the drain is overfilled by stormwater, Krch said, “People have suffered significant damages to their possessions, there has been loss of property and I don’t know how many accidents occurred on flooded streets.”

    Colorado Springs completes first stormwater project promised under new commitment — KRDO.com

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From KRDO.com (Chris Loveless):

    The City of Colorado Springs says it has finished building a detention and water quality basin on the city’s northeast side as part of a new commitment to stormwater projects.

    The city has committed to spending $19 million a year on stormwater projects.

    The new detention basin at Woodmen Road and Sand Creek cost $3 million and is designed to reduce the velocity of flows in Sand Creek and to prevent downstream erosion while creating a more natural environment.

    The city says 71 projects were selected based on negotiations with Pueblo County to identify and prioritize stormwater projects that would benefit both Colorado Springs and downstream communities…

    All of the projects are designed to reduce flooding, provide improved water detention, and reduce flows, sediment and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.