LA VETA, Colo. — As the first flash flood watch of the year went up over the Spring Burn Scar on Wednesday, a small town at the bottom of La Veta braces for the worst case scenario.
The burned area is no longer able to absorb rainwater, which means the chances of having a 50- or 100-year flood event is now more likely than ever before.
“Everybody’s a little nervous, but also there is an air of confidence,” said La Veta Mayor Doug Brgoch.
These are the preparations and the plans in place that spurs that confidence.
River Expansion: They have expanded the capacity of the Cucharas River that sweeps through the town, from 800 cubic feet per second to 3000.
New Gauges: They put in several new steam-flow gauges on the four basins that come off of the burn scar, the Cucharas River, Middle Creek, Indian Creek, and Abeyta Creek, increasing the warning time.
Flood Buddies: The east half of La Veta is on a rise, safe from even a 100-year flood event, so everyone that lives in the lower part of town has been asked to find a flood-buddy on higher ground. A place to go when the evacuation order is given.
Flood insurance: The town has encouraged citizens to buy flood insurance. Brgosh, said that two years ago, you probably couldn't find but a handful of people with flood insurance. Now he believes that most do have it.
Evacuation Plan: The Mayor said they should get about a 30-minute warning when flooding in La Veta becomes imminent. They plan to use a series of siren blasts from warning horns posted all around the area to pace the evacuation.
"Three-minutes blasts, followed by 2-minute blasts with 2-minute silence gaps. This is going to be our timing element. When we hear the final blast followed by long silence, they know they are in the final 10 minutes before the flood hits," Brgoch said.
The first two flash flood warnings were issued Wednesday as heavy rains hit mostly the north side of the burn scar. Rain gauges in the area showed only between a quarter- to a half-inch of rain, but heavy flooding was seen in Middle Creek with at least one county road getting washed out in eight locations.
There are places, like an area just outside of La Veta, in Huerfano County, called Middle Creek, that are right in the burn scar. For nearly a year now, they’ve been living the double nightmare of fire followed by flooding.
Resident Ed Becker said he lost 8% of his 50 acres to the fire, but it spared his house.
“I got lucky. I was just one of the few that wasn’t burnt to the ground out here. You know most of my neighbors are gone, and they’re not coming back,” Becker said.
Then the monsoon rains came in August before the fire was even officially extinguished.
Becker said he lost his spring-fed water supply, and his terraced vegetable farm to those late summer floods and his county road kept getting washed away leaving him trapped over and over. Even in yesterday's rains, County Road 442 was not passable without four-wheel drive.
“It’s been kind of like I wish I didn’t live here over the last year,” Becker said.
He said his property isn’t even worth half of what it was a year ago. Who wants to buy a place with burned land, and a high risk of flooding for at least 10 years?
Most days he said he wonders if it would have been better to have just lost everything to the blaze.
“The meter is still running for us on the cost of this thing. We’re just sitting here with the wreckage and the bill. You know, I’m pretty discouraged,” he said.
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