Manitou Springs residents question if enough was done to stop flood destruction

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MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. -- The sounds of shovels and backhoes could be heard coming from an area known as “The Narrows” in Manitou Springs. The name comes from where Williams Canyon narrows down into the small town west of Colorado Springs.

The steep terrain of Williams Canyon usually funnels any water runoff into a small culvert above the city, but last Friday was a different story; an inch of rain fell within 15 minutes; some describe it like pouring a bucket of water on a toy house.

“This is just a bad location,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark. She’s talking about the locations of the homes that were destroyed.

“It’s hard to explain to folks downhill. How could you let this happen? It happened because the natural drainage of this canyon,” Clark said.

She has been working on securing funds to mitigate the water and debris coming down the hill. She estimated $30 million will be spent this year, but said stopping all of it is difficult. “We can only make people more aware of what’s going on and try to slow it down.”

Some disagree. Bruce McAlexander was working on cleaning up his rental property off Canon Road Wednesday.

His bright yellow home made it on most TV newscasts after video shot by a neighbor showed the raging waters flowing around his home and into the streets, down into Manitou Springs.

“You can tell how high it got on the walls,” he said, pointing to a two-foot mark on the walls inside the home.

“Where the water went, who knows?” he said.

McAlexander has been around long enough to remember the floods of 1965 and 1999, but he told FOX31 Denver this time, it could have been prevented.

He pointed to the culvert behind his home, a four-foot concrete ditch, which is supposed to take the runoff into Fountain Creek.

The only problem, the culvert became filled with debris from the burn scar; rocks, mud, ash and burnt wood pieces filled and plugged the culvert.

The flood waters had nowhere to go, but into McAlexander’s home, down Canon Avenue and into parts of Manitou Springs.

Theresa Springs disagrees with McAlexander and said nothing could have stopped the flooding damage that happened last Friday. “What’s held all these mountains together is trees, grass, and all that kind of stuff, well it’s gone!” she said.

Springer is the Rehabilitation Coordinator for Waldo Canyon. She told FOX31 Denver local, city and federal authorities will spend nearly $30 million this year trying to limit how much debris comes down from the burn scar.

“There is not much you can do, you just direct it sometimes,” Springer said.

Pictures provided to FOX31 Denver shows hay laid down on mountain sides, trees cut down and laid at an angle and debris ditches built to try and stop everything on the mountain from coming into town.

It is estimated that almost 14,000 tons of debris were captured in those ditches in the last storm. Springer said those are filled and new ones need to be built.

Clark wants to try and buy some of the homes in the flood path, but she said funding will be an issue.

As the afternoon came to an end Wednesday sirens went off and the skies opened up for another rain storm.

Looking up to the sky Clark said, “We used to pray for rain.”

She hopes the county will buy some of the homes in the path of the water, but said securing funding will be an issue.