From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
The images of a glowing sky that filled the air with choking smoke won’t soon fade, but the damage to forested hillsides charred by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 will be more troublesome for years. Colorado Springs had a taste of things to come during last September’s torrential rains, but it will take millions of dollars and at least a decade to recover the damaged landscape.
“We built basins to collect sediment over a 10-year period, but they filled up during the flooding last September,” said Tim Mitros, Colorado Springs stormwater manager, during a media tour of projects Wednesday.
So now the city is building a series of ponds that will trap floodwater, along with making other drainage improvements on North Douglas Creek, South Douglas Creek, Queens Canyon, Cheyenne Creek and Camp Creek on the west side of Colorado Springs. Altogether the projects will cost $8.8 million in additional stormwater funding from federal, state and city sources.
The catch basins worked, but filled too quickly, Mitros explained during a tour of one on North Douglas Creek on the Flying W Ranch. The idea behind them was to allow new vegetation to sprout as they filled, but the storms left a bed of gravel that would just sheet off water in the next storm.
Jason Moore, director of land management for the Flying W, explained how downed trees are criss-crossed along the creek bed to slow down minor flows.
“They’re in a W shape, so we call them Flying W’s,” Moore joked.
The ponds are being constructed with the cooperation of landowners, but must be cleaned by city crews after each storm dumps its load of sediment. Mitros said the city is fortunate because it is working with only two large landowners, the Navigators and Flying W, and both have been cooperative.
“Without the ponds, the sediment will continue to fill the concrete channel below and put them in danger of being overtopped,” Mitros said.
That will continue to be a big job. Colorado Springs still is hauling 6,000 cubic yards of sediment — 600 truckloads — that washed into Garden of the Gods Park after last summer’s storms. There would be some benefit to Pueblo, because anything done high up in the watershed helps to slow down the water reaching Fountain Creek, Mitros said. Primarily, however, the projects are being undertaken to protect the homes and businesses in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that was decimated when the Waldo Canyon Fire burned 347 homes. Those homes are being rebuilt, but now face a different threat. They lie below valleys that are normally dry, but which become running rivers when it rains. Because the fire burned off much of the vegetation, any flood becomes about 10 times as powerful, said Leon Kot, restoration coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Besides the new threat of runoff, Colorado Springs also is dealing with miles of concrete storm ditches, some more than 50 years old, that have fallen into disrepair. About 1,000 feet of 8-foot diameter pipeline buried near Eighth Street and Cheyenne Boulevard was overwhelmed by the September flooding and is being replaced in a $750,000 project.
More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.