How One Of Colorado’s Worst Natural Disasters Reshaped Pueblo — #Colorado Public Radio

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From Colorado Public Radio (Shanna Lewis):

These days the Arkansas River doesn’t seem threatening as it ripples past Pueblo’s historic district. But in early June of 1921, it was a very different story. That’s when days of heavy rains combined with mountain snowmelt to catastrophic results…

Locomotives and train cars were responsible for a lot of damage; more than 1,200 were washed away, smashing through buildings. There were fires and vast amounts of mud. Telephone lines were out, leaving Pueblo cut off from the rest of the world. And the city was littered with the corpses of livestock, adding to public health concerns.

When the floodwaters receded, Puebloans got to work to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The engineers literally moved the Arkansas River about a half-mile to the southwest and built a massive levee to protect the city.

The former river channel through downtown languished for decades, becoming an eyesore for the city…

1921 Pueblo flood. Photo credit: University of Southern Colorado https://scalar.usc.edu/works/1921-the-great-flood/home

More than fifty years after the flood, a group of locals started working to change that, with the goal of making the old riverbed into a new attraction, something to help draw people downtown. Residents inspired by San Antonio’s River Walk worked with the conservancy district that controlled the river on an effort that took decades and resulted in the HARP, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

#ColoradoSprings: Cottonwood Creek stormwater stabilization project update

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

City officials announced last week it received a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for stabilization work along 9,000 feet of Cottonwood Creek, Biolchini said. The city plans to match the grant with $993,924 from funds intended to improve its stormwater management.

The work will also keep thousands of cubic yards of sediment from washing into Fountain Creek and flowing south to Pueblo, Biolchini said. The project is among 71 Colorado Springs must complete as part of an agreement with Pueblo County to better control the volume and quality of water flowing south in Fountain Creek…

Colorado Springs officials expect to spend $16 million in 2020 on stormwater improvements using fees paid by homeowners and nonresidential property owners, according to the city’s website. Officials must spend $100 million on stormwater projects, operations and maintenance from 2016 through 2020 to comply with the Pueblo agreement. Projects are on track to hit that goal, Biolchini said. The five-year benchmark is part of the requirement to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater improvement.

Construction to help prevent erosion of Cottonwood Creek is expected to be designed this year and completed in 2021, he said.

The construction will likely include reshaping the banks so they have gradual slopes and burying hardened structures to keep the creek from changing course, he said.

Cañon City councillors approve #stormwater project

Cañon City photo credit DowntownCañonCity.com

From The Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

The Cañon City Council on Monday approved by majority vote a bid for the stormwater capital improvement project in the Dawson Ranch and Wolf Park subdivisions to Avalanche Excavating in an amount not to exceed $1,081,074.

The council in 2018 authorized financing through certificates of participation to fund an $8 million stormwater capital improvement plan and specific stormwater projects.

City Engineer Adam Lancaster said the newly approved project entails the replacement and installation of culverts of various sizes and lengths at 10 separate locations within the subdivisions…

“This project will make significant improvements in Dawson Ranch,” said Mike Gromowski, the chairperson of the Dawson Ranch Homeowners Association. “Stormwater currently does damage to about 150 properties with each major storm. … If we don’t do the work now, it will only cost more in the future – it will never get cheaper.”

#Colorado Ag #Water Alliance: Water Quality and Your Farm’s Bottom Line – Brush, Colorado, February 24, 2020

Click here for all the inside skinny and register.

Senior Judge John L. Kane grants another delay in the #FountainCreek lawsuit (May 22, 2020)

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 Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

A new court document states that progress continues toward resolving an environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.

The document was filed last week in Denver at the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.

“The parties have continued to make significant progress toward a settlement that encompasses an agreement for relief for all violations alleged,” the court filing states…

After a trial last year, a judge decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit that regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek. Remaining to be decided is what the city would do to remedy the violations.

The new document states that since October, the five parties have been exchanging drafts of a proposed agreement on how to settle the dispute.

“The parties have met monthly (since November and) continued to have monthly scheduled settlement meetings so that they can continue their progress toward (a settlement),” the document states.

Last week, Senior Judge John L. Kane granted the parties’ request to keep the case on hold until May 22, so they can continue their work. Kane is presiding over the case.

He emphasized, however, he would not keep the case on hold beyond May 22 based on the same grounds that the parties have been stating.

Breckenridge scores $10 million grant for Goose Pasture Tarn Dam improvements

Goose Pasture Tarn Dam. Photo credit: NextDoor.com

From The Summit Daily (Sawyer D’Argonne):

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $10 million grant to the state of Colorado last week to help fund modifications to the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam.

The funds come as part of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is meant to help minimize the risks of possible dam failures…

The dam — south of Breckenridge proper and north of Blue River — is classified as “high hazard” by the state, a categorization that has little to do with its condition but rather the potential loss of human life and property in the event of any type of failure. According to FEMA, a failure likely would impact more than 2,000 residences and businesses in the Breckenridge area below the dam, along with major damage to roadways and the community’s existing water supply.

The dam does need some work to help put the minds of Breckenridge residents at ease. The need for upgrades began to emerge in 2015, during a high moisture year when town-run monitoring stations started to see significant rising water levels, according to Steve Boand, a state hazard mitigation officer with the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. As a result, stakeholders decided to implement reservoir storage restrictions in 2016.

Breckenridge also moved forward in seeking federal funding to address concerns. The $10 million from FEMA will cover more than half the costs of the project. The rest already has been budgeted as capital improvements by Breckenridge, Boand said. The work on the dam is scheduled to begin later this year and will lower the spillway by 4 feet to help protect the dam and everyone in its path…

Construction on the project will begin later this year and is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2022, though Boand said it could take until 2023. Breckenridge will lower water levels in the reservoir during construction seasons to facilitate the work.

As forests burn in #Colorado and around the world, drinking #water is at risk — The Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Strontia Springs Dam spilling June 2014 via Denver Water

From The Associated Press (Tammy Webber) via The Colorado Sun:

In Australia’s national capital of Canberra, authorities are keeping a wary eye on burning forests and bushland, hoping a new water treatment plant and other measures will prevent a repeat of water quality problems and disruption that followed deadly wildfires 17 years ago.

There have not yet been major impacts on drinking water systems in southeast Australia from the intense fires that have burned more than 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers) since September. But authorities know from experience that the biggest risks will come with repeated rains over many months or years while the damaged watersheds, or catchment areas, recover.

And because of the size and intensity of the fires, the potential impacts are not clear yet.

“The forest area burned in Australia within a single fire season is just staggering,” said Stefan Doerr, a professor at Swansea University in England who studies the effects of forest files on sediment and ash runoff. “We haven’t seen anything like it in recorded history.”

The situation in Australia illustrates a growing global concern: Forests, grasslands and other areas that supply drinking water to hundreds of millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to fire due in large part to hotter, drier weather that has extended fire seasons, and more people moving into those areas, where they can accidentally set fires.

More than 60% of the water supply for the world’s 100 largest cities originates in fire-prone watersheds — and countless smaller communities also rely on surface water in vulnerable areas, researchers say.

When rain does fall, it can be intense, dumping a lot of water in a short period of time, which can quickly erode denuded slopes and wash huge volumes of ash, sediment and debris into crucial waterways and reservoirs. Besides reducing the amount of water available, the runoff also can introduce pollutants, as well as nutrients that create algae blooms.

What’s more, the area that burns each year in many forest ecosystems has increased in recent decades, and that expansion likely will continue through the century because of a warmer climate, experts say.

Most of the 25,000 square miles (64,000 square kilometers) that have burned in Victoria and New South Wales have been forest, including rainforests, according to scientists in New South Wales and the Victorian government. Some believe that high temperatures, drought and more frequent fires may make it impossible for some areas to be fully restored…

Very hot fires burn organic matter and topsoil needed for trees and other vegetation to regenerate, leaving nothing to absorb water. The heat also can seal and harden the ground, causing water to run off quickly, carrying everything in its path.

That in turn can clog streams, killing fish, plants and other aquatic life necessary for high-quality water before it reaches reservoirs. Already, thunderstorms in southeast Australia in recent weeks have caused debris flows and fish kills in some rivers, though fires continue to burn…

…climate change has affected areas such as northern Canada and Alaska, where average annual temperatures have risen by almost 4 degrees (2.2 degrees Celsius) since the 1960s, compared to about 1 degree (0.55 degrees Celsius) farther south. As a result, the forested area burned annually has more than doubled over the past 20 to 30 years, said Doerr, from Swansea University.

Although there might be fewer cities and towns in the path of runoff in those areas, problems do occur. In Canada’s Fort McMurray, Alberta, the cost of treating ash-tainted water in its drinking-water system increased dramatically after a 2016 wildfire.

In the Western U.S., 65% of all surface water supplies originate in forested watersheds where the risk of wildfires is growing — including in the historically wet Pacific Northwest. By mid-century almost 90% of them will experience an increase — doubling in some — in post-fire sedimentation that could affect drinking water supplies, according to a federally funded 2017 study…

Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million customers, discovered “the high cost of being reactive” after ash and sediment runoff from two large, high-intensity fires, in 1996 and 2002, clogged a reservoir that handles 80% of the water for its 1.4 million customers, said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist for the utility.

It spent about $28 million to recover, mostly to dredge 1 million cubic yards (765,555 cubic meters) of sediment from the reservoir.

Since then, the utility has spent tens of millions more to protect the forests, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and others. to protect the watershed and proactively battle future fires, including by clearing some trees and controlling vegetation in populated areas.

Utilities also can treat slopes with wood chips and other cover and install barriers to slow ash runoff. They purposely burn vegetation when fire danger is low to get rid of undergrowth…

Eventually, some communities might need to switch their water sources because of fires and drought. Perth, on the western coast, has turned to groundwater and systems that treat saltwater because rainfall has decreased significantly since the early 1970s, said Sheridan of University of Melbourne.