Alamosa: State of the Rio Grande levee meeting

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From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As a result of the mammoth 2005 storm [Katrina] and the levee breaches that occurred in its wake in the South, the federal government has revised river levee standards nationwide, a move that is now affecting the Rio Grande levee through Alamosa. The Rio Grande levee, constructed under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction, is now substandard by post-Katrina guidelines. Bringing the river dike up to the new 2009 standards will likely cost Alamosa hundreds of thousands, city officials told residents attending a levee forum Monday night…

William Trujillo, levee safety program manager out of the Albuquerque Corps of Engineers office, told the group that the levee repairs facing Alamosa are due in part to post-Katrina standards, but Alamosa’s river dike has other deficiencies that must be addressed, such as beaver infiltration of the levee system.

City Public Works Director Don Koskelin and City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said the city is addressing the beaver problem. Trujillo said the city could request a compliance extension, but Koskelin said even during a potential grace period the city would have to begin levee repairs. “As a city we have a set of rules we have to abide by right now,” he said. “This isn’t some time in the future. We can apply for an extension … but during those years we have to be taking actions.” Trujillo said a vegetation variance guideline is also being drafted and may be approved by headquarters in September. The city could request a variance on vegetation, he explained. Although he did not have definitive cost estimates for levee repairs, Koskelin said a tree removal project already in the works for city-owned river frontage is going to cost about $10,000 to remove 10 trees. “If it would only cost $1 million I would be happy,” Cherpeski said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Left unanswered were how the corps’ new rules would affect residents along the levee who negotiated individual agreements with the agency in the late 1990s and how the status of the barrier would affect federal flood insurance requirements. Nor did the forum provide a clearer picture of what steps the city might take or how much those steps would cost…

Nor did it appear likely that Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., would be able to steer the levee rules affecting Alamosa. Erin Minks, a staffer for Salazar in the San Luis Valley, said the congressman would likely not be able to find an out from the corps’ rules for Alamosa, given that Pueblo, Grand Junction and Durango also had problems with the regulations but over different aspects. “It’s not a matter of John going into the committee chair and saying this shouldn’t affect Alamosa. It just doesn’t work that way,” she said…

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office in Denver did not return calls for this story, but Cherpeski said the agency could begin a re-examination of the Alamosa flood plain maps within the next year. Some city residents questioned the need for the levee, stating that in their lifetimes the Rio Grande has never approached the barrier’s capacity, which was designed to withstand 11,000 cubic feet per second or the equivalent of a 100-year flood. But the highest recorded flows through Alamosa came on July 1, 1927, when 14,000 cfs came down the river, according to the corps’ 1990 Interim Feasibility Report on the levee…

The one effort that appeared likely to move forward Monday sprung from a suggestion by Alamosa County Emergency Manager Pete Magee, who urged the city to form a citizens task force to review the city’s options.

More Alamosa coverage here.

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