COLORADO SPRINGS — The Waldo Canyon Fire changed the way our community looks at natural disasters. A project designed in response to side effects of the blaze is now completed, and aims to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Near Garden of the Gods lies the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project. It's a 17-acre floodwater detention and sediment collection facility.
Mayor John Suthers said after the Waldo Canyon Fire, it was clear they needed to do something dramatic. "We had a mess on our hands... It's not a question of whether we're going to have another wildfire, it's a question of when," said Mayor Suthers.
After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the burned vegetation was not able to absorb moisture in the way it normally would. Consequently, the area saw flooding, with sediment rolling down the hillsides as well.
So, the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project was designed, with the help of federal, state, and local agencies. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for $8.9 million bankrolled the project, as well as $844,000 from the city.
Representatives from FEMA and the state visited the completed project on Monday. "If we could do more mitigation across the country, we'd be a much safer country, we'd be a much more resilient country," said Peter Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator.
Plus, those with the state said this year has been a sign mitigation projects are essential around the state. "We're seeing more extreme weather events, and more fires, and then inevitably afterwards, you have that post-fire flooding... The more that we can do up front so we're preventing something from going wrong, the better off we are," said the Director of the Division of Homeland and Emergency Management, Kevin Klein.
In addition, approximately 100 people no longer live in the floodplain. "We're really not moving people out of the floodplain, we're moving the floodplain right? And so, we're changing the shape and the footprint of the floodplain," said Klein.
The 169 acre-foot storage reservoir is estimated to hold around 360,000 gallons of water, according to the Stormwater Enterprise Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, Richard Mulledy.
Mulledy said the project has made around 100 residents who previously lived within the floodplain safer. He also said they now do not have to pay for floodplain insurance, which can be expensive.
Plus, it will create better evacuation routes during floods if necessary.
Vegetation is already growing on the land, and Mayor Suthers said with a bit more time, the drainage project may not even be noticeable from the road. He said a goal of the project was to be discrete, especially so close to Garden of the Gods.