An air of urgency surrounded Monday’s Waldo Canyon Fire Regional Recovery group meeting. The main focus: The roughly $7 million in aid from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Officials also learned that the U.S. Forest Service will not reopen Rampart Range Road from Colorado Springs to Rampart Reservoir.
Representatives from Colorado Springs, El Paso County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and other organizations and municipalities stressed the importance of prioritizing projects, especially those associated with flood mitigation, with the hopes of getting much-needed matching funds from groups such as the El Pomar Foundation.
Coalition executive director Carol Ekarius said results from assessments of watershed stability and downriver areas of concern will play huge roles in getting the necessary 25-percent matches for projects. Money allocated through the protection program only constitutes 75 percent of funding for Waldo Canyon recovery projects. The rest must come from grants.
The Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply (WARSSS) is expected to be completed in the next week or two, Ekarius said. That study is focused on watersheds within the burn area that could send tons of debris and sediment toward communities along Highway 24, in western Colorado Springs and further downriver along Fountain and Monument creeks.
Another study being conducted by Matrix Design Group is targeting populated areas and property downstream that could be in jeopardy during “catastrophic” floods. That assessment will not be complete until July, officials said. El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark repeatedly reminded the group of the urgency of getting results from the two studies as Emergency Watershed Protection Program money must be spent by early December.
Dave Watt of the Colorado Department of Transportation said crews are focusing on mitigation projects near Rainbow Falls in Manitou Springs and near Wellington Gulch and Sand Gulch further west on U.S 24.
From the middle of May to June 1, Watt said, workers will stabilize slopes at the base of Rainbow Falls, where the ground under Highway 24 was undermined by a flash flood on July 30. That project is department’s most urgent concern, he said.
Along Ute Pass, crews will install concrete aprons and other sediment traps to minimize landslides that could shut down Highway 24 or threaten Green Mountain Falls and Cascade.
Tom Magnuson, of the National Weather Service, outlined potential concerns about the summer monsoon season.
Magnuson said the trouble spots are along Highway 24 and in the 4,500-acre Camp Creek watershed above Glen Eyrie in western Colorado Springs.
The weather service will issue flash flood warnings when weather spotters alert to potential rainfall of a half inch per hour or more. Magnuson said the service has spotters “all around the burn area” and said his organization’s radar system was upgraded last week.
“We think we’re going to get much better precipitation estimates,” he said.
Rampart Range Road
U.S. Forest Service Officials said Monday that Rampart Range Road would remain closed from Rampart Reservoir to Colorado Springs through the summer.
They cited the need to revegetate burned-out slopes, an overabundance of dead trees and the threat of flood for the continued closure — despite pleas by Woodland Park and Teller County officials to open the road as an alternate route in case Highway 24 is closed.
Forest Service officials did say that talks are ongoing to open the road from Woodland Park to Rampart Reservoir for the Memorial Day weekend.
Beginning Monday, Colorado Springs and AspenPointe began canvassing neighborhoods most likely to flood to hand out preparedness packets and educate residents about what to do in flash floods.
On Saturday, pre-filled sandbags will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Building at 2424 Garden of the Gods Road.
Emergency preparedness in Green Mountain Falls
More than 100 people attended a flood readiness meeting at Ute Pass Elementary School on Monday night.
The residents from communities along U.S. 24 learned more about rainwater run off coming out of the hills north of the four-lane highway. People should “have a plan, and understand where safe is,” said Patty Baxter of the county’s office of emergency management.
Baxter, the USFS’s Steve Sanchez and Jennifer Stark of the weather service echoed concerns that people might not react quick enough given the speed that water could come down ash-covered hills in the burn area.
“What we are looking at is about six times the amount of water and stuff coming off the burn scar compared to what you’re used to,” Baxter said, noting that it will take about 30 minutes from the time the rain begins for the water to reach the canyon through Ute Pass.