From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Fountain Creek for years ate away at its banks about 15 miles north of Pueblo on a site that never fully recovered from decades of raging floods.
“There were 15-foot drop-offs,” explained Mark Pifher, a consultant with Colorado Springs Utilities who coordinates Southern Delivery System permits. “That railroad bridge acted as a dam every time there was a flood.”
Utilities restored the 28-acre site on its Clear Springs Ranch property as one of the conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS.
Tied into a trail system that could one day connect Pueblo with Colorado Springs, the site features an interpretive sign that explains the ecosystems of Fountain Creek. The project also created about 6 acres of wetlands designed to absorb some of the punch from future floods.
“In the 2013 floods, we lost a couple of acres of land here,” Pifher said. “Now, Fountain Creek has a more meandering bank. It’s cut down on the constant destruction we saw before construction and improved the habitat for numerous species.”
More than 27,000 rocks 2 feet or larger in diameter were installed under the wetlands, with a foundation of 6,500 larger than 3 feet in diameter. That prevents the bed of the creek from being chewed out by floodwaters.
“Most of the investment we made, you can’t see,” Pifher said. “In August, it held up well to a flow of about 8,400 cubic feet per second. It worked like it was supposed to.”
Keyway structures — basically ridges of rock — were added to guide the creek within its channels. The area is designed to hold up to a 15,000 cfs flood.
Crews hand-planted more than 50,000 plugs of plant species, 144,000 willow stakes and 5,000 cottonwood or ash poles on the grounds to help dampen storm effects.
The project was included in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit both to improve one of the worst sections on Fountain Creek and to demonstrate methods that might be used elsewhere.
It’s not the type of flood control structure that would protect Pueblo from a monster flood such as the one in 1965, but it does prevent smaller floods from causing even bigger problems downstream if left unchecked.
At a cost of more than $4 million, it’s not the type of project that could be easily replicated by other landowners along the creek, Pifher acknowledged. But it does provide an example of what can be done.
Utilities is committed to providing broader flood protection as well, Pifher said.
Another condition requires $50 million to be paid by Colorado Springs to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS comes online. That money would help build the more significant flood-control structures that protect Pueblo. For that to occur, questions concerning whether holding back water could occur without injuring water rights have to be answered.
“We want to make that happen, and CSU is providing technical assistance to the district,” Pifher said.