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As Flash Flooding Potential Increases, Mitigation Projects Delayed

Nathan Heffel

Flash flooding in areas scarred by the High Park Fire has increased concern over flooding, especially with the monsoon season forecast to begin in July.

Congress passed legislation in early March which provided Emergency Watershed Protection funding for mitigation in areas affected by last year’s High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. Nearly $20 million worth for both fires. Those important projects in Larimer County have been identified and are ready to go.

But there’s a hitch.

Larimer County Recovery Manager Suzanne Bassinger says the extensive federal paperwork process to distribute the funds is holding things up. “We can’t initiate any of that work until the final signatures are on those contracts, or we do not get reimbursed for it,” said Bassinger. “And we have a lot of money at stake here. We’re talking seven, seven and half million dollars worth of work… It’s a little frustrating to sit here and know that we have work to do but we can’t start it.”

Bassinger says mitigation projects could begin in two weeks. One waiting for the green light would create a flash flood warning system in Rist Canyon. It would use water sensors in area creeks to alert drivers with flashing lights and signs if a flash flood is imminent. 

“As the creek comes up and hopefully before it goes over the road we can turn on flashing lights and just tell the traveling public that there will be water on the road very shortly,” said Bassinger.

Credit WET Data Systems / http://wetmap.wetec.us/WETMapV3/WETMapV3-LC.html
A screen capture showing rain totals for the past seven days across the High Park Fire burn scar.

Previous flash flooding has occurred in minutes, washing water and debris over Rist Canyon road. Bassinger says the signs will educate the public that flash flooding is possible, and could be for years to come. She adds a similar system is active along the Big Thompson River.

Larimer County’s High Park Fire recovery website provides a link that monitors rain levels across the burn zone in nearly real time.

Bassinger says it’s another tool that can help residents prepare for the continued risk of flash flooding as monsoon season begins.  

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