Fire and flood, drought and rain, in Ute Pass residents can hope for the best but expect the worst. “The hell of it is, we could be having a fire on one side of the hill and get a massive thunderstorm and have a fire and a flood going on together,” said Carol Ekarius, executive director of Coalition for Upper South Platte.
In a presentation to the Green Mountain Falls' board Feb. 19, Ekarius, with Patty Baxter, emergency manager for El Paso County, and Commissioner Sally Clark, predicted doomsday if rainfalls exceed one inch.
“With an inch of rain, it may be days before we can open the highway,” Baxter said. “With a half-inch of rain there might be minor flooding and some debris on `the highway; chances are we'll be able to clear it off in a few hours”
At risk for fire and flood, Green Mountain Falls could see a repeat of last summer. “We are actually drier right now than we were before the Waldo last year,” Baxter said. “And it's not going to get any better. The National Weather Service is saying we're in a drought through June.”
On a more hopeful note, Ekarius reported that a nationally-recognized hydrologist is analyzing the terrain in the fire scar with an eye on designing effective mitigation projects. “The sooner we can get the mitigation done, the better the chance that we don't have a truly catastrophic flood,” she said. “But the potential is there.”
For her part, Clark is sounding the alarm with the federal government. “At the national level, regardless of what we think of Congress, we need to realize those folks are trying to help us,” she said. “Colorado is short about $20 million to do our emergency-watershed protection projects.”
To get up close and personal, Clark is traveling to the nation's capital the last week of February to meet with Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. “We have a lobbyist employed through the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments,” she said, wrapping up with the bad news. “There is still a 20 percent match for all emergency funding but some can be done in in-kind contributions.”