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Post-fire flood-control projects limited local damage

By: matt steiner matt.steiner@gazette.com
October 24, 2013 Updated: October 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm
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Glen Eyrie Director of Operations Derek Strickler examines a bridge over Camp Creek that remains clogged with sediment Thursday, October 24, 2013. During and after September's heavy rains, crews at Glen Eyrie removed one hundred dump truck loads of sediment that was repeadedly washed down Camp Creek, completely filling the channel. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The Camp Creek and North Douglas Creek watersheds near northwest Colorado Springs drew little attention in the weeks following torrential September storms that flooded the most of the Front Range, forced evacuations from El Paso County to Wyoming and caused nine deaths.

Homes along Cheyenne Creek flooded and roads, trails and slopes in North Cheyenne Park suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage during the storm that began Sept. 11. But the story farther north in Colorado Springs was more about what didn't happen as 8 inches of rain drenched the area over a three-day span.

Nearly 100,000 cubic feet of sediment did not come rampaging out of hills high above North Douglas Creek, but settled along the channel and in retention ponds built to avert catastrophe. Homes below, in the Mountains Shadows and Reed Ranch subdivisions, were spared from another disaster after the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed almost 350 houses in the area in 2012.

Historic buildings at Glen Eyrie off 30th Street were not seriously damaged by more than 1,500 tons of debris that filled Camp Creek. And residents in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood did not have their homes destroyed by flows from that watershed.

"There was a lot of cleanup, but no real damage," said Glen Eyrie operations director Derek Strickler.

Strickler and his team at The Navigators worked feverishly to clean out Camp Creek "multiple times" and spread more than 100 dump truck loads of sediment throughout the 880-acre property.

Jason Moore of The Flying W Ranch could only watch as five sediment ponds on ranch property disappeared under flows of crushed granite.

Moore stood west of Mountain Shadows along North Douglas Creek on Thursday. Below him lay a 50-yard-wide expanse of about 6-feet of debris that he said "wasn't here" on Sept. 10.

"One day this wasn't here. Then the next day it was. Then the next day, half of it was in the ponds," Moore said, explaining that the fifth and final pond was simply "overwhelmed" but did its job.

Tim Mitros, a Colorado Springs city engineer, said some sediment washed past the last pond but stopped as it approached the city culverts.

Moore and Mitros both said the sediment retention ponds had reached capacity.

The mitigation work done in the spring at the ranch paid off during the September storms, but if another large flood were to strike the Waldo Canyon burn scar, debris that could fill "about 9,000 dump trucks" could rush into the city, Moore said.

At Glen Eyrie, it was work done during the week of the September floods that kept debris from entering populated areas such as Pleasant Valley.

Strickler's crews spent hours each day dredging out Camp Creek repeatedly. The work helped slow the flow and help sediment stop before reaching Garden of the Gods.

The Glen Eyrie official described on Thursday how excavation workers continually cleared more than 4 feet of sediment from the creek as mud and rainwater poured down ash-laden hills damaged by the Waldo Canyon fire.

"For a good 10 days we were fighting it," said Strickler as he stood next to the typically dry creek bed which still had a trickle of water flowing through it.

Glen Eyrie and city officials are working with private engineers as well as the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how protect Glen Eyrie and land in the Garden of the Gods to ensure that west side neighborhoods are safe.

Mitros and Strickler said Camp Creek could be rerouted through The Navigators campus and a series of retention ponds might be built between Glen Eyrie and Gateway Road.

"It's in the feasibility stage," Strickler said. "There still has to be multiple approvals."

Mitros added that a public meeting was held on Tuesday and design work for Garden of the Gods is just beginning.

The city is also collaborating with Flying W Ranch and U.S. Forest Service officials to alter the retention-pond plan along North Douglas Creek.

According to Moore the five ponds built in late spring were simply a "stop-gap measure" and are not meant to be cleaned out. Moore said the ponds, built with $111,000 in Emergency Watershed Protection money from the Nature Resources Conservation Service, filled with sediment in just days - when officials thought it would take about 10 years.

The new plan is to build one large retention pond on the eastern end of the Flying W land. Mitros said an access road would enter the pond, allowing city crews to clean it out after each storm.

According to Mitros, September's flood was just another step in learning how to mitigate near the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

"This has made us more aware of what can happen up here," he said.

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