TELLURIDE – “Folks tend to have a really short memory of floods,” Karen Guglielmone told the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday.
A local example of that general rule is Cornet Creek, which last flooded in 2007, and has seen two major flood “events” in the last century – in 1914 and 1969 – that brought mud and debris past Colorado Ave. People need to realize, Guglielmone said, that in the event of a major event, “pretty much the entire town is in the Cornet Creek floodplain.”
Guglielmone, who is the town’s project manager, went on to update council on the work completed to mitigate flood damage potential since the 2007 “event.” The long list included repair and replacement of culverts and bridges, channel and bank work and repair within the creek, streetscape improvements, ongoing maintenance to keep the creek and culverts free of excessive sediment and debris, and continuing work with San Miguel County to establish emergency response protocols.
Future priorities would look much the same, Guglielmone said, including the replacement of the Cornet Creek Pedestrian Bridge and engineering studies. The suggested studies would focus on a structural analysis of the Cornet Aspen Street berm, a debris cachement system and the feasibility of an early warning system. Of the three, council was most critical of the EWS.
Guglielmone explained that, while EWS systems are improving, there is still the chance of them falling prey to the “cry wolf” syndrome, where false alerts lead to people ignoring alerts altogether. Council as a group seemed to agree that the five minutes of warning that such a system might provide was probably not worth the effort and expense.
The method of conveying a warning was also problematic. “Reverse 911,” which can be used to convey emergency information by phone, is only effective if people answer their phones immediately, Guglielmone pointed out. The other option would be the return of the town siren, which did not garner enthusiastic support, mostly due to the necessity of periodic testing.
Another problematic issue concerns the ongoing maintenance of the creek. Agreements were made with most of the property owners adjacent to the creek following the 2007 flooding to allow access to the creek for cleanup and improvements. The renewal of those agreements, albeit in a modified form, was among the staff recommendations, but with the caveat that town should not assume long-term responsibility for maintaining the privately-owned segments along the creek.
Mayor Stu Fraser suggested the possibility of creating a special district, which would have property owners along the creek pay for the town to maintain their sections of the creek. Councilmember David Oyster suggested a system modeled on town’s snow removal policy, whereby the town would be allowed access if a property owner failed to affect the proper maintenance.
Guglielmone suggested that such actions were premature. The town owns enough adjacent property, she said, that the maintenance of strategic sections of the creek should help maintain the rest of the channel “except in the case of an extreme event.” She added that town’s wetland regulations apply to the area along the creek, so private property owners would need to go through a town process before being allowed to do any work around the creek.
Regardless of maintenance and preventative measures, flooding is by its very nature destructive and unpredictable. Town Attorney Kevin Geiger pointed out that no government entity could warranty private property owners against the effects of a flood. Whatever work is done, he said, Cornet Creek would “not be able to handle the bigger events that have and will overwhelm the creek.”
“Risk never goes away,” Guglielmone agreed. The reduction of those risks is a priority of the Public Works Department, she explained. Individual flood insurance, proper zoning, structures such as culverts, bridges and berms, and contingency and response plans are all tools used to reduce the effects of flooding.
Council directed staff to post warnings and information on the town’s website and include informational pamphlets with utility mailings before the increased rains of late July and early August that usually trigger local flooding.