From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
When fires raged through the eastern San Juan Mountains last summer, they left a threat to public safety even after the flames had gone out. Of the 88,000 acres burned on the Rio Grande National Forest last summer by the Papoose and West Fork fires, more than 21,000 acres of the burn scars were left with water-repellent soils. The condition, known as hydrophobicity, heightens the risk of flooding during summer and fall thunderstorms and, in part, prompted the formation of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team.
The watershed team received $2.5 million in state funding last year for recovery work and emergency response and has installed rain and stream gauges throughout the burn scars to better detect flooding.
The team also deployed a temporary Doppler Radar to get a better picture of thunderstorms passing over the burn scar during the monsoon season. Last summer, the team placed a radar unit on Bristol Head Mountain, roughly six miles southwest of Creede. At the end of this month, the group will put a temporary unit at a new location on Lobo Overlook near Wolf Creek Pass.
“It actually gives a little bit better coverage over the burn scar,” Tom Spezze, the watershed team’s director, said.
The site is also more accessible than Bristol Head and will bring the radar unit closer to Internet and power utilities, he said.
The need for the radar stems from the inability of permanent National Weather Service radar units in Grand Junction and Pueblo to give a complete look at storms coming through the headwaters of the Rio Grande.
“There’s a black hole right there,” Spezze said.
Pamela Stevenson, a meteorologist in the weather service’s Pueblo office, said that’s because the radar units are set at such an angle that their signals rise in elevation the further they travel. By the time a signal from Pueblo’s radar reaches the burn scars, it’s at roughly 24,000 feet, she said While stronger storms are often detectable at that elevation, she said the watershed team’s temporary unit will give a better look at storms below that elevation “Definitely having the radar close to the burn scar is going to help,” she said.
Spezze said the need to closely monitor flood threats and inform locals of the dangers will likely last until vegetation can return to the sections of the burn scars with damaged soils. Spezze said that process can take anywhere from two to four years, according to discussions he’s had with officials monitoring the Hyde Park and Waldo Canyon burn scars near Fort Collins and Manitou Springs, respectively.
So far, property owners below the Papoose and West Fork scars have avoided much trouble with flooding and debris flows. The most significant event came at the end of last month when rain washed out a U.S. Forest Service Road near Shaw Lake.
Most of the significant rain since the fires have come from fast-moving storms, rather than slow-moving ones that pose a greater flood risk, Spezze said.
“We’ve been lucky and dodged a bullet,” he said.
More restoration/reclamation coverage here.