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Waldo Canyon debris flows: How much more?

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Aug 13 2013 10:11:19 PM CDT

A local experts says we should expect another year of severe flows before much of the ash from the wildfire washes downstream.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -

A woman involved in recovery after the Waldo Canyon Fire said most of the remaining ash and related debris will eventually wash downstream, but not for another year or so.

Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, discussed the matter Tuesday while checking on a flood control project along Rampart Terrace Road in Ute Pass.

"The black, muddy stuff will, by next year, you won't see so much of the black any more," she said.  "In fact, the last couple of storms, it's been more brown muddy than black muddy.  So we're kind of passing out of the phase of the worst of the ash now.  How much debris is up there?  Far, far more than has come down so far, which is why all this work is being done high up in the fire."

The work Ekarius refers to is a series of control projects designed to trap debris and sediment in the upper canyons before they can threaten Manitou Springs and U.S. 24.  She said the Black Forest burn area will see similar problems, but to a lesser degree. 

"The sediment catchments in Waldo, on the flood Friday, actually took at least 11,900 tons of sediment and debris that would have ended up on the highway," she said.

The coalition also continues to have volunteers place sandbags and barriers around homes that are most vulnerable to flood damage.  But Ekarius said after the fires, even normal rainfalls present a danger of flash flooding.

"And we'll see more of those," she said.  "Historically, they were the kind of event we'd see once every 10 years. "

Ekarius said once the fire debris has washed away, future flows will produce more rocks, sand and gravel as the burned mountainsides continue eroding.

"It's a natural process that normally takes hundreds or thousands of years, but has now been accelerated by the fires and the flash flooding," she said.

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