Disaster Preparedness for Flooding in Colorado Springs

As summer draws near, the threat of wildfires and flooding is increasing in the Colorado Springs area. The deadly fire in Waldo Canyon in June 2012 killed two people and destroyed 347 homes. The devastation of the fire left the area vulnerable to flooding, and a flash flood destroyed three homes in 2013 after more than half an inch rain fell in less than half an hour. The flooding was so severe that it closed U.S. 24 for hours.

The Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management met with residents in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood to help them prepare before another natural disaster strikes. The meeting also featured other agencies such as the National Weather Service and the National Flood Insurance Program. Emergency management officials are stressing the need to have a plan and keep enough supplies for 72 hours in case of potential flooding.

The most costly fire in Colorado’s history at that time, the Waldo Canyon Fire left 29 square miles of devastation. The Burned Area Emergency Response Assessment team found that 3,375 acres had burned so severely that it looked like the moon. With vegetation and roots burned four inches deep in the ground, they warned that this burn scar could lead to major flooding if there was heavy rain.

A number of local and federal agencies worked aggressively to mitigate flood potential in the Waldo Canyon burn scar. The Forest Service spent $5 million to clean culverts and remove sediment, while Colorado Springs Utilities spend more than $8 million on a variety of projects to prevent future flooding. Despite their efforts, an 8-foot wall of debris, boulders, and trees flowed into 20 houses during the 2013 flash flood.

The risk of fire is particularly severe at areas known as Wildland Urban Interfaces where human development lies close to flammable vegetation. One quarter of the population of Colorado Springs lies in such areas. Neighborhoods such as Cedar Heights had only minimal damage because of previous fire mitigation projects.