A regional stormwater task force presented its disappointing findings to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners in a meeting on Thursday. The American Society of Civil Engineers graded the county's stormwater infrastructure a D-.
"There was an expectation that there was a problem, but I think there was a lot of surprise to the extent of that problem and some serious concern about how to go forward," said Kevin Walker, a consultant to the task force.
He said money is tight in this poor economy, so funding has not beenavailable for the necessary upkeep of stormwater infrastructure.
"Unless you keep up with them, they can catastrophically fail; that's what's happened in several places here," said Walker.
Pati Burleson is a member of the task force. She owns The Margaita on Pine Creek restaurant; her property has been directly impacted by stormwater runoff.
Her grandfather purchased the land her restaurant currently sits on in 1903. She remembers Pine Creek as a quiet, meandering stream. Now she described the view of the creek from her restaurant as a "moonscape."
"The banks have degraded, you can see a tree over there is about to go in. We've lost I don't know how many feet of property here," said Burleson.
She had a fence running along the cliff overlooking the creek. Burleson had to replace it with a fence 10 feet back because the earth eroded under the first fence and it's dangling off the cliff in some areas.
"For 20 years we've watched things fall over the cliff. We say, 'Help! Do something! Is anyone going to do anything about this?' But no one does," said Burleson.
The task force recommended that the county commissioners move forward with plans to improve the county's stormwater infrastructure. It did not lay out specific steps to move forward, however.
"I don't know what the answer is, but I know what it's done for us. It's impacted pretty heavily on our little area down here," said Burleson.
Burleson and Walker said it's hard to raise awareness about this problem. Burleson said she and others who live along creek beds are conscious of the problem, but the majority of the public doesn't see the lasting effects of this problem day to day.
Burleson hopes these new findings will show the public this is a problem facing everyone, not just her business.
The commissioners have asked staff members to come up with a resolution that would assemble a committee for future stormwater action. That committee will prioritize stormwater projects and brainstorm funding options.