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Residents eager for flood-risk information, plans

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
March 29, 2013
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	 Photo by The Gazette file
Photo by The Gazette file 

This spring, Manitou Springs could see the first serious test of a 14-year old culvert designed to protect the city’s business district from flash flooding.

Former Manitou Springs Councilman Curt Heimsoth experienced the 1999 flood that inspired the culvert’s construction; he also remembers that the culvert, built despite budget constraints, was designed for only a 25-year flood. This year, the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar has almost quadrupled the flood danger for the area, meaning that minimal amounts of rain could trigger a 100-year flood, with waters pouring into Manitou from Williams Canyon, and Heimsoth is anxious to see how the culvert will hold up.

“It’s yet untested,” he said on Friday. Heimsoth says he and other Manitou residents are awaiting a plan-of-action, should slight rains trigger a flash flood that could overtake the town’s business district, as it did in 1999.

Both the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County have plans to help residents along the city’s west side and along U.S. 24 prepare for what could be a dangerous flash flood season. They have designated April 8-13 “Flood Awareness Week,” when officials will knock on doors in high risk flood areas from Green Mountain Falls to Mountain Shadows, handing out pamphlets about emergency preparedness, said Kim Melchor, a city spokeswoman.

Flood Awareness week also will have a staggered series of public meetings where residents will learn about the difference between flood watches and warnings, and discuss community evacuation plans, said Dave Rose, public information officer for El Paso County. Flood awareness week could stretch to nearly a month, as the last area town hall meetings will be in Manitou on April 24.

While they will promote awareness, the meetings cannot remedy certain dangers, particularly in Manitou Springs. The culvert was put in place after a 1999 flash flood swamped Mantiou’s Arcade and Canon Avenue, and precipitated three years of flood preparation and restoration, said Heimsoth, who owns several properties on the avenue. The culvert starts half-way up Canon Avenue and dumps into the spot where the Ruxton stream meets with Fountain Creek. Heimsoth is afraid that the culvert will not handle the amount of water that could run into it.

“Common sense tells me that is has to be an issue,” he said.

So, what can residents do?

“Nothing,” Heimsoth said. “We’ll just have to deal with it on an individual and collective basis as far as the community goes.”

Rose, with El Paso County, agrees. Fleeing a flood isn’t like fleeing a wildfire, he stressed. Flood waters can flow differently through a neighborhood, making it essential that every homeowner have an individual plan.

“There’s a tremendous effort to get people to think of their own plan,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of concern that people’s natural instinct will get them into trouble.”

For instance, when a flood hits, often the best escape is not to get out but to get to higher ground, Rose said.

Heimsoth will begin his personal flood preparations next week with a delivery of sandbags to several of his properties along Canon Avenue. The 1999 flood was in April, so preparation cannot start too early. But Heimsoth’s memories of that flood left him with some lingering concerns about the city’s plan.

For weeks after the 1999 flood several Canon Avenue residents lost access to their homes, which had only one egress, and another flood could endanger an underground electrical system the city installed.

“I think everybody’s sort of waiting to get more info from this meeting on the second week of April,” he said. “But historically that could be too late.”

Flood awareness town halls
• Green Mountain Falls area, April 8
Ute Pass Elementary School
9230 Chipita Park Road
6:30 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.
• Cascade Area, April 9
Ute Pass Elementary School
9230 Chipita Park Road
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
• Pleasant Valley Neighborhood, April 11
Glen Eyrie Castle Great Hall
3820 N. 30 St., Colorado Springs
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Manitou Springs, April 15 and 24
Manitou Springs City Hall
606 Manitou Avenue, Mantiou Springs
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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