May 8, 2013 Updated: May 8, 2013 at 7:25 am
This week could very well prove to be the region's first test of its flood preparedness efforts for 2013, and residents of Mountain Shadows gathered Tuesday night to learn how to best prepare for the next potential disaster that could strike them.
Neighbors who live near the Waldo Canyon burn scar spent two hours at a city of Colorado Springs flood preparedness meeting, similar to those hosted up and down the U.S. 24 corridor last month by El Paso County officials.
Last summer's Waldo Canyon fire, which consumed 347 homes and killed two people, transformed the spongy, absorbent soil of the forest into acres as hard as glass, on which the smallest amounts of water can cause a damaging flood. The 18,000-acre burn scar left by the fire is the most dangerous such scar in Colorado, said Tom Magnuson of the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
All it would take is a 10-year flood event, Magnuson said.
'One-point-seven-five (1.75) inches of rain in one hour, that's a catastrophic flood event, ' Magnuson told the crowd of around 100 residents. 'So that's probably going to happen in the next 10 years. '
The question is not if a flood will hit El Paso County but when and how hard.
The National Weather Service predicts rain through the weekend and issued a flood watch Tuesday night for Wednesday and Thursday. More rains and possibly heavier rains are forecast for the weekend as well, meteorologist Stan Rose said.
Whether a flood will hit depends upon how fast the rain pelts the ground. The heavier and more sudden the rain, the greater the flood potential, Magnuson said.
On July 30, when flood waters rushed down U.S. 24, the police and city were taken by surprise, said Lt. Sean Mandel of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
But this year, Mandel and officials with the Office of Emergency Management have constructed a plan, Mandel told the residents.
From Manitou Springs north through Mountain Shadows, officials have divided the area into 13 zones and assigned police officers and firefighters to each.
A flood evacuation is not like fleeing from wildfire, Mandel stressed. The last thing he wants is people driving away from floodwaters in their cars.
The key, he said, is to get to higher ground above the waters.
Only a handful of residents raised their hands to indicate they have a flood evacuation plan that details where they will go and how they will coordinate with other family members.
While Mandel focused on evacuation procedures, Tim Mitros, head of the city's stormwater department, gave residents a picture of the flood prevention devices installed in the hills just west of them.
Mitros flipped through a slideshow of debris nets, culverts and drainages - a complex network designed to slow the advance of tree branches and heavy boulders during a flood.
But not everything is flood-proof. A concrete drainage near Wilson United Methodist Church, off Flying W Ranch Road, channels the North Douglas Creek but has holes and worn spots from nearly four decades of rushing water.
Magnuson also pointed to a culvert under U.S. 24 that collects debris from Waldo Canyon and is cause for concern.
'The Waldo Canyon drainage is 1,100 acres, ' explained Magnuson, referring to the land area that drains into the culvert. 'All of the water and debris drains through a 5-inch culvert under Highway 24. '
Hearing that, the audience gasped.
Recalling the flash flood of July 30, which shut down the highway and covered portions in mud, Magnuson stressed that El Paso County has yet to see the worst of it.
'The point I want to stress, ' he said, 'is that July 30 is by no means the worse-case scenario. '