What can be done to stop mudslides on I-70? Not much, experts say

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — Grim news when it comes to all those mudslides that have been shutting down Interstate 70. It could be at least a year, and perhaps much longer, before they stop causing so many problems. Even then, there is no guarantee. 

Every time the highway shuts down in the mountains, drivers have to take a six hour detour.

If the Colorado Department of Transportation is alerted of a heavy rainfall possibly creating flash floods, it shuts down the mountain road. There are some fixes but they will take a while. 

“There’s no single place you can concentrate your effort because there are so many different watersheds that are potentially producing these mudslides or debris flow,” said Colorado School of Mines geologic engineering professor Paul Santi.

I-70 West through Glenwood Canyon has been shut down at least eight days since May 1 due to mudslides. 

“When you have really a huge number of possible sources it’s impractical to try and deal with that,” said Santi. 

How to prevent mudslides was part of a study conducted by the Natural Hazards Center at CU Boulder along with the University of Puerto Rico and the United States Geological Survey. 

The island asked for help after hurricane Maria triggered more than 70,000 landslides in 2017.

“Planting new trees and vegetation is key to stabilizing damaged slopes,” said graduate research assistant at the Natural Hazards Center CU Boulder Jocelyn West.

“It could definitely have a massive impact to reduce landslide risk on the order of a few years. But even within that first year if it starts to get roots in place from plants and shrubs and trees is very important,” added West.  

The study said vegetation could begin to decrease mudslides in as a little as a year. A sturdier hold would take three to five years. 

So this means as long as there is a threat of rain, the highway could shut down again and again. 

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