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Teams assess post-fire flooding threats

Posted: Tuesday, Jul 16th, 2013

The Rio Grande Headwaters sits under a now unstable mountainside since the West Fork Complex Fire burned through earlier this month. The Rio Grande Reservoir was untouched. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

RIO GRANDE/MINERAL COUNTY — While the West Fork Complex Fire cools under rainy summer skies; flash floods and debris flows become a growing threat to both property owners and natural resources.

On Monday morning, the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT) welcomed the arrival of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to the post-fire efforts taking place on both public and private lands.

“We are ready to get to work,” said San Luis Valley Irrigation District Superintendent and RWEACT member Travis Smith. “We have been fortunate so far.”

BAER team leader Eric Schroeder explained the team, having just arrived yesterday morning, would begin evaluating burned areas in the Rio Grande National Forest immediately. After evaluations, potential threats to critical values would be considered and a risk assessment matrix would be developed along with treatment prescriptions. Within the next two weeks, a risk assessment report should be prepared with plans to move forward coming into place, complete with funding.

“You folks have already made a lot of progress,” Schroeder said. “It is a benefit for us.”

Last week, for example, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in coordination with RWEACT, assessed properties in the Papoose Fire and the West Fork Fire, generating a preliminary report identifying areas with moderate to high burn severity ratings in Rio Grande, Mineral and Hinsdale Counties. The NRCS is available to help private landowners assess their properties for mitigation work like building berms to prevent flooding and debris

The Rio Grande headwaters area was severely burned in the Papoose Fire, according to the report, threatening the Rio Grande Corridor Communities including Creede, Cottonwood Cove, Masonic Park and South Fork with possible floods and debris problems. Other locations in the area facing fire aftermath are Goose Creek, Jumper Creek, Trout Creek, Fern Creek, Crooked Creek, Little Squaw Creek, Red Mountain Creek, Fuchs Reservoir, Little Ruby Lake and Ruby Lake.

A portion of the West Fork Fire was also assessed, according to the report. Highway 160 is a major area of concern and the many properties that line its path including Fun Valley, Moon Valley, Lonesome Dove and the majority of campgrounds and subdivisions. Trout Creek, Lake Fork, Hope Creek, Kitty Creek, Shaw Lake and Metroz Lake round out the list for potentially impacted areas.

“We will keep assessing,” said NRCS Ron. “We will find more priority areas.”

In addition to on the ground assessments, RWEACT and BAER will also utilize hydrology and soil erosion models and radar as tools to further understand the WFCF aftermath situation, in addition to addressing critical wildlife habitat, noxious weeds, soil heath and cultural and historical sites.

RWEACT is also working to help residents access flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. The Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012 provides individuals and businesses an option to purchase policies, but the fine details are still under the microscope. A public meeting is being planned to bring the most accurate information to the table before it is too late.

The group is also planning to create subcommittee to address economic concerns.

The next RWEACT/BAER meeting is scheduled for Friday with the time and location to be announced.

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