Ute Pass residents reflect on first year of flood project

Barricades installed after first Waldo Canyon flood last summer

POSTED: 05:42 PM MDT Jul 25, 2013    UPDATED: 05:58 PM MDT Jul 25, 2013 
EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -

Residents around Ute Pass Elementary School are waiting to see if last summer's flash-flood prevention project will protect them from the kind of major flood they experienced a year ago.

That flood, coming a month after the Waldo Canyon Fire, brought down a flow of mud and debris from the fire's burn scar.  It caused minor damage to the school and left a mess around several homes.

Barricades consisting primarily of giant sandbags were placed beside the school and around two homes across the street, in an effort to divert future floods.

Kim Wetzel, who lives in one of the homes, said the mudflow entered the home of her next-door neighbor, but didn't enter her home.  She said she'll never forget the experience.

"It was pretty mind-boggling," she said.  "It was just a total devastation of sandbags. They were just totally obliterated everywhere.  Didn't even slow (the flood) down at all.  It put about 3 feet of mud about 360 feet wide on our property."

Wetzel said that after the the flood in late July 2012, she and her husband placed large concrete blocks around their home for protection.  However, the Wetzels removed the blocks after learning the materials probably wouldn't work.

"They could hurt somebody down the stream if (a flood) moved those blocks," she said.

Wetzel doesn't seem certain that the barricades will protect her home.  She said she and her husband have removed most of their furniture and valuable possessions to avoid losing them a flood, and the couple leaves home if it rains at night.

"I think (the barricades will) help," she said.  "The water may over-top it.  We don't know what it's going to do at this point."

Ed Flanagan, who also lives near the school, said he drives around to check on drainage in the neighborhood when it rains.  He said he was pleasantly surprised that there was no flood on the day that many cars were swept down Ute Pass by a flash flood farther down Ute Pass on U.S. 24.

"But then, we haven't had a flood like the one last July," he said.  "The houses here survived before without the barricades.  I think they'll do pretty well -- even in a big flash flood right here.  But you never know."

Flanagan said he's skeptical that any flood-control project will be completely effective during a major flood.

"Put yourself in the position of these families, not knowing when there might be a big, huge wall of water coming down," he said.  "Maybe say a prayer for them."