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Manitou prays for no rain


A repeat of the heavy rains that inundated Manitou Springs last spring could wipe out portions of the town, resulting in massive damage to homes and other structures. And, critics say, the city government has exacerbated the problem with inadequate provisions.

The steep-hilled city of 5,000 is still repairing damage from last year's floods caused by overflow from Williams Creek, which descends variously alongside and underneath Canon Avenue to empty into Fountain Creek in downtown Manitou.

The Manitou Springs government has launched flood mitigation measures on Williams Creek in recent months, but some residents say the action makes Manitou even more vulnerable to flooding.

"The city caused more damage trying to fix the flood danger than the flood itself caused," said Earnie Blue, a Manitou chiropractor and resident who manages several properties alongside Williams Creek.

In an attempt to mitigate flood problems, the city recently lined the upper half of Williams Creek with gabions, which are square, wire mesh structures stuffed with rocks and stacked terrace-like one-to-three levels high.

The portion of creek has been totally stripped of vegetation, the streambed widened to from 10 to 15 feet and lined with concrete, with gabions stacked 8 to 10 feet high along the banks.

"Look at this hideous monstrosity," said Blue during a walk along the creek last weekend. "A pebbly mountain brook has been turned into an ugly ditch of rock and concrete."

Ruined aesthetics, though, isn't the residents' primary concern. The real problem, they say, is that the gabions abruptly end where the creek intersects Cañon Avenue to go underground. The only thing channeling water from that point downstream is two 16-inch culverts, both prone to clogging with sand and gravel.

"Picture torrents of storm water tearing down these 12-foot wide gabion sluiceways to these 16-inch culverts," said Blue. "It's like a water cannon that will wash everything below here and alongside Canon Avenue out to sea."

Manitou city administrator Dan Wecks agrees. "There's no question that the situation on Canon Avenue would create serious problems in the event of a major rain," he conceded. "But there's nothing we can do about it. The city is broke."

Wecks claims that Manitou was able to do the upstream mitigation because the National Conservation Resource Services picked up 75 percent of the $400,000 cost. When the NCRS money ran out, work stopped.

The city, however, doesn't have the $900,000 it will take to complete the underground mitigations downstream, he said.

Wecks said Manitou has been promised flood mitigation help by the Federal Highway Administration, but no funds will be available until October at the earliest, and probably not until October of 2001. "And even then," he said, "we're not sure how much we'll end up getting."

"In the meantime," said Blue, "I'd sure hate to live downstream of Cañon Avenue."

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