La Veta Installing State-Of-The-Art Flood Warning System For Spring Fire Burn Scar

The town of La Veta is installing a state-of-the-art warning system to get ahead of inevitable flooding on the Spring Fire burn scar.

Five gauges have been installed on the edge of the burn scar. Two others are on the Cucharas River. Each tracks the presence of water, including depth and velocity. The data is sent to a satellite every minute and a half, providing nearly real-time information.

Sandy White of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District says that--plus radar from the National Weather Service--will help tell officials if a flood is on the way at least 30 minutes before it hits the town.

“With 30-45 minutes warning you’re not going to save significant amounts of property, but the key here is to save lives.”

White says a group of residents worked to have the gauges installed. If the gauges detect an oncoming rush of water and debris, officials will have the option to sound sirens in town and send out warnings through a reverse 911 system. The warnings will also provide extra time for residents in Walsenburg in the onset of a flood.

Christe Coleman is with the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Her organization, along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will be footing the $175,000 bill for the gauges.

“You hear people say, ‘oh well, I’ve lived here my whole life and this has never flooded like this before.’ But now that you have 80,000 or 90,000 acres of scorched earth above you and it’s so unstable.”

That, she says, puts the area at a high risk for flooding. Coleman says that risk will remain for years as the forest slowly grows back.

Officials planned to attend a workshop in early May to learn to manage the project and determine parameters for the warnings.