System to track floods, wildfires up for funding at Colorado Legislature

(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
<p>Fire crowns in the trees in the Black Forest area north of Colorado Springs, Colo.</p>
Black Forest Fire 1
Fire crowns in the trees in the Black Forest area north of Colorado Springs, Colo.

A bill to fund the forecasting system is up for its first hearing at the state Capitol Monday.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder have been working for decades to develop new modeling systems. They hope to better predict how floods and wildfires will behave. That information could help emergency managers improve their response to disasters.

Bill Mahoney, the deputy director of NCAR's Research Applications Laboratory, said the modeling software has been developed. But state funding is needed to put it into operation.

"It’s unfortunate that technologies that could really serve societal needs could end up sitting on the shelf too long, or never getting into practice at all," Mahoney said.

Mahoney says current flood predictions rely on scattered stream level readings, while the new model accounts for everything from topography to soil moisture.

"You can see how the flood evolves from the very top of the mountains, for example, right down as the flood wave moves down into the plains," he said.

But the price tag to implement the flood and wildfire prediction system is a big hurdle. It's estimated to cost $10 million over five years and it's among many requests for money before lawmakers this session.