Damages to Colorado Springs Utilities systems will cost millions to repair

September 18, 2013 Updated: September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
photo - Bear Creek flume after the recent flooding.
Bear Creek flume after the recent flooding. 

The runoff from five days of drenching rain tore up concrete structures that protect Colorado Springs gas and water lines, leaving some utilities exposed.

Mud and water made its way into one hydroelectric plant, shutting it down. Pickup truck-size boulders landed, and remain, on top of utility pipelines. And the $4.5 million in drainage control projects built in recent months in the Waldo Canyon burn scar were tested and in some cases destroyed.

It's too soon to estimate the cost of the damage caused by the recent flooding, but it will be in the millions, said Tyler Allison, general manager of Colorado Springs Utilities water systems operations. In some cases, Utilities managers can't get close enough to assess the damage because of wiped out roads or flooded buildings, he said.

"It will take a while to get the total dollar," Allison said.

Finding the cash in the 2014 budget will be tough, he said. Colorado Springs Utilities cut back on its pipeline replacement budget in recent years as its revenue flat lined after the recession.

Even so, Utilities managers were not stressed over the damage, which was so much more devastating after a three-day storm in 1999, they said. In a report to the utilities board Wednesday, managers outlined the damage uncovered so far.

Eight feet of mud and moisture seeped into the Manitou 3 hydroelectric system and forced an outage. There was an outage at Drake 5 too, said George Luke, general manager of energy supply. There was some wet coal and crews had to dig deep into the coal piles to get to the dry stuff for use. A maintenance shop was flooded, Luke said.

"But fortunately the equipment is up on pedestals," he said. "It was basically a cleanup job."

Drainage control projects in the Waldo Canyon burn scar were close to being completed, Allison said. Both logs and rebar were used to make a series of steps and basins in hopes of catching sediment and slowing water from gushing down into the city.

But a week of rain filled the basins and water ran right over the control points.

"Another two months and we would not have suffered as much damage that caused the issues," he said.

Overall, the wastewater system held up well, said Leah Ash, general manager of distribution, collection and treatment. She recalled the 1999 storm that busted pipes filled living rooms with raw sewage.

Some of the pipes were more than 100 years old at that time, she said. When the ground got soaked, it dislodged the pipes and the movement busted them wide open.

In the decade that followed that 1999 storm, Utilities spent more than $200 million on the system, including building the J.D. Phillips Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Utilities spent $74.8 million inspecting, rehabilitation and replacing 75.4 miles of water pipes across the city. The pipes were encased in concrete, rock and material that could not be broken, said Keith Riley, utilities deputy program director of water services. "The results are showing now," he said.

Allison said at least 10 major pipelines - including Cheyenne Creek structures, Homestake pipeline and Fountain Valley Authority pipeline - still must be inspected for damage.

"We are just at the beginning of the assessment," he said. "Some areas we just can't get to and there are some (areas) we don't know about it."

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