Flood mitigation measures could cost $5.2 million
After a week and a half studying the effects of the Coal Seam Fire, the Burned Area Emergency Response team has recommended measures to counteract erosion and lessen the impact of damaging floods and mud flows.A team of soil and watershed experts, wildlife biologists, engineers and mapping specialists began work on June 17 and completed its report, the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan, on June 30.The Coal Seam Fire has so far burned 12,229 acres. According to the BAER report, about 18 percent of the fire area was severely burned, with most or all of the covering vegetation consumed and soils so heated they are unable to absorb water. That creates a high potential for soil erosion and water runoff. However, the team also found vegetation is already beginning to come back in some areas with signs of sprouting grasses and oak brush.”Recovery of grasses … and shrubs is expected to occur in most areas within three to five years. Some high severity areas may not fully recover for 10 or more years,” the report said.Mitchell Creek, South Canyon and Red Mountain experienced the most severe burning. All three areas are considered at high risk for flooding and mud flows triggered by moderate rainstorms.Areas at high risk for flooding in the Mitchell Creek area include the lower creek where Mitchell Creek Road and Donegan Road intersect, on Donegan Road east to Storm King Road, south to Highway 6&24 and west to Mitchell Creek Road. Also at risk are buildings at the foot of Red Mountain, including the Community Center and Municipal Operations Center. Flooding and mud flows could also damage railroad line below the fire areas where culverts don’t have enough capacity to carry debris flows away.Flood protection measures are already under way in Mitchell Creek. Concrete barriers were being put into place Monday along the banks of the creek, Donegan Road and the lower reaches of the creek near Two Rivers Chevrolet.The Colorado Division of Wildlife bought 80 concrete barriers and transported them to the Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery. Crews from the Glenwood fish hatchery and staff from the Crystal River hatchery in Carbondale installed concrete barriers along Mitchell Creek Road where it travels through the hatchery.”We’ve moved the fish to the west side of the hatchery,” said hatchery manager Rich Kolecki. “We feel this side of the hatchery can be protected.”Most of the larger fish have gone out to various rivers in the state in the regular stocking program, Kolecki said.A representative sample of Colorado River rainbows was sent to the Poudre River fish hatchery, he said.A dozen inmates from the Rifle Correctional Center were also at work Tuesday above the fish hatchery clearing branches from the banks of the creek.Stabilization work going on in Mitchell Creek, Red Mountain and South Canyon will carry a hefty price tag. The BAER report estimated it will cost about $5.2 million, to be shared between the Bureau of Land Management ($169,185), U.S. Forest Service ($3.6 million) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service ($1.9 million). Besides the concrete barriers, other flood protection measures include spreading biodegradable netting that contains seeds on denuded slopes, cleaning blocked culverts, evaluating bridges on Mitchell Creek, installing straw wattles on steep slopes, and aerial mulching and seeding.The report also recommends installation of an early warning system of remote weather stations that will trigger a signal via radio and telephone when a given amount of rainfall occurs. The stations will be set high on Mitchell Creek, Red Mountain and South Canyon, and will hopefully give the county sheriff some lead time to begin evacuation if necessary. The Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) will be maintained by the National Interagency Fire Center, and connected to county sheriff dispatch via radio and phone lines. One of the Mitchell Creek RAWS will be connected to a siren to warn canyon residents. The cost of the system is $68,700 and will be shared by the BLM and Forest Service.It appears the protective measures now being taken are coming in the nick of time. The National Weather Service has forecast the possibility of rain Thursday or Friday.
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