April 19, 2013
Last summer’s Waldo Canyon wildfire has set up parts of our community for another disaster. If we are fortunate enough to get good precipitation, which we need to avoid additional fires this spring and summer, the moisture could cause flooding.
Lack of vegetation in the burn scar area means water could rush into neighborhoods causing catastrophic flooding that would threaten lives and destroy tens of millions in property.
Experts told The Gazette this year the burn area could increase the intensity of flash flooding by twentyfold. Floodwaters could pick up sediment and debris that would cause major damage to homes, bridges, culverts and streets in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Ute Pass and other areas further downstream.
Our city and federal governments should do everything possible to avoid this looming crisis.
Mayor Steve Bach fully comprehends the threat and has recommended spending $10 million from city government’s record-high emergency fund to get work started on mitigation projects, such as a Camp Creek channel retention basin to store water that could otherwise flow into homes in a nearby 100-year floodplain in the Rockledge Ranch and Garden of the Gods areas.
Nearly $6 million would be spent on flood-mitigation projects that will be outlined in a forthcoming regional joint study by governments of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County and Manitou Springs.
Money would also pay to improve fire training and response among various jurisdictions and mitigation of wildfire fuels that enhance the threat of another fire.
By all means, City Council should allocate these funds. These are precisely the kinds of needs the emergency funds are for.
The biggest concern with the proposal is timing. Bach will make the proposal at an informal Council meeting Monday and, if all goes by routine, a first vote will be scheduled for May 14.
With due respect to the process, May 14 is way too late. Spring snow and rain, which we desperately need, aren’t going to wait for a council meeting. Too much too fast will bring about the very problems these funds could help solve before the work begins.
If we’re going to spend $10 million, it needs to solve the problem and that means there is no time to spare. Time could mean money, and even lives. Instead of spending millions to mitigate threats, we could be spending millions to clean up a another big mess. And the flood mitigation work will still need to get done.
We have a mostly new council, with six of nine members taking their oaths just this week. All ran on promises of fiscal responsibility. Asking them to spend $10 million their first real day on the job is asking a lot, perhaps, but that’s what needs to happen.
Council members, we urge you to approve the mayor’s recommended allocation with an emergency vote Tuesday. Declaring the allocation an emergency means no second vote will be needed. That means work can begin right away.
The Waldo Canyon fire began on federal property, and we hold the federal government partially accountable for the conditions that allowed it to roar out of control so fast. The Forest Service should do a better job thinning forests and contributing to fire suppression. So the federal government should help substantially with the cost of flood mitigation.
Let’s try to recoup as much of this cost as possible from federal funds. But that will take time we do not have. All our local politicians can control at this juncture is the speed with which these projects begin.
An emergency allocation of the mayor’s recommended funds will be the most fiscally responsible decision the Council can make next week. Let’s get this done. Quickly.