Flood survey: Support for mitigation efforts in Colorado Springs area, but no added taxes

By: matt steiner matt.steiner@gazette.com
January 15, 2014 Updated: January 16, 2014 at 10:32 am
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Fountain Creek flows brown west of Manitou Springs Saturday, July 7, 2012, after the water receded from Friday night's rain. Erosion after the Waldo Canyon Fire could produce dangerous flash flooding. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

When El Paso County commissioner Dennis Hisey sat down Tuesday and reviewed the results of a flood control survey conducted in November, he was impressed by the knowledge people had about the floods that plagued the Pikes Peak region in 2013.

"Most people have a (level of) awareness even if their property didn't get washed away," said Hisey, who is chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. "We've got a pretty informed citizenry here."

Dave Munger, of the Pikes Peak Runoff and Flood Control Task Force, which is comprised of business leaders, city councilors, county commissioners, water district representatives and Colorado Springs Utilities representatives, presented the results of the November survey at the commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday.

The survey of 402 county voters showed most favor a regional solution with a steady stream of funding, but are adamant that the money shouldn't come from added sales and property taxes or fees for El Paso County residents.

Hisey stressed that in order to find a long-term solution, however, new taxes and fees will likely be an inevitable reality.

"What we've seen in the past is when it comes out of the general fund and we come through a downturn of some sort, all of a sudden it's competing with public safety, parks and everything else," Hisey said. "In the next 20 years, we'll have more ups and downs."

Experts who conducted a watershed assessment on the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar in the Spring of 2013 said ash-laden ground and steep slopes west of Colorado Springs could leave the region battling flash floods "for decades." Dave Rosgen of Wildland Hydrology said floods could be an issue for up 70 or 80 years.

Flash floods poured rainwater, mud and debris on the 18,000-acre burn scar in July and August, destroying property in Manitou Springs, causing closures of U.S. Highway 24 and killing one person.

VIDEO: Flood mitigation workers surprised by finding earlier this month.

Munger's presentation Tuesday showed that flood coverage by media and several public meetings have kept awareness high since the first flash flood closed Highway 24 near Cascade on June 30, 2012, shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire was contained.

While 61 percent of those surveyed said they had not been personally impacted by the flooding, 64 percent said flood control and storm runoff is "very important" to the entire Pikes Peak region.

The survey also took into consideration a series of mid-September floods that reached from southern El Paso County along the entire Front Range north to the Wyoming border. During those storms, thousands of people were displaced, roadways were washed out and 10 people were killed, including two in El Paso County.

Hisey said the next step in battling floods and regional stormwater issues is to "come up with some good ideas that might solve the problem" that will compliment several projects that have already been done by the county, the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation.

He said the task force plans to heed the results of the survey and have solid recommendations by the end of February for the best possible long-term plan.

"It seems that people want an overall plan," Hisey said. "They're saying, 'Do it, and do it right.'"

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