Series 2022 - Flood Warning Gauges
After the 2018 Spring Creek Fire in the headwaters of the Cucharas and Huerfano River basins, runoff from hydrophobic soils on the burn scar continued to plague property owners in the watershed with serious flooding and debris flows.
By late 2018, the District was actively searching for funding to install and maintain early warning gages on tributaries of the Cucharas River above La Veta (Indian, Middle, and South Abeyta Creeks) as well as Pass Creek, a tributary of the Huerfano River above Gardner. The objective was to use a series of four advanced satellite telemetry stream gages in an effort under certain circumstances to give those communities a 45-minute to one-hour warning of calamitous floods. As studies continued, expert opinions agreed that the number of gages should be increased to seven, adding North Abeyta Creek and providing upgrades to two existing gages on the Cucharas River.
During early spring 2019, seven advanced flood warning gages were rapidly acquired and installed below the burn scar and above La Veta and Walsenburg. They were financed through HCWCD by Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management grants (total approximately
$179,000), with very substantial in-kind assistance and expertise from Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR). During the 2019 monsoon season and through the summer, the gages worked as designed. Refinement of their use continued in subsequent storm events. The changing stream channels due to significant flooding and debris flows provided challenges. Refinement of gage use progressed, and HCWCD continued to fund the satellite communication expenses with grant funding.
Those flood warning gages installed in 2019 continue to monitor the streams draining off the burn scar above La Veta and Walsenburg. Five of the gages continue to operate as designed and located. The persistent flooding has changed the stream channels of Middle Creek and Pass Creek, so those two gages have had to be relocated so their use can be reinstated. Extra efforts have been expended to reinforce the Middle Creek gage, including heavy equipment and manpower being
provided by Huerfano County Road & Bridge. The Town of La Veta and DWR have also provided manpower and coordinated engineering on in-channel fortification to stabilize the site, with matching funds provided by HCWCD through CWCB.
Originally the satellite communication monitoring was contracted for a period of five years. A request was made recently for HCWCD to add two more years to that schedule. These advanced flood warning gages are only one of many elements of flood preparedness in which residents and property owners should be involved. The natural stream conditions and other elements of nature present limitations to the accuracy and reliability of the stream measurement equipment that constitutes an integral part of the early flood warning systems. In addition, the technology for the stream measurements, and for the satellite collection, interpretation, and the transmission of that information to the downstream population, is subject to potential inaccuracies, interruptions and failures. The use of the early flood warning systems must be used by the public subject to, and with allowance for, these limitations.