By Jamie Leary

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Thousands of Coloradans will have a reliable water source thanks to major upgrades to the Glenwood Springs watershed. Following the Grizzly Creek Fire in August, concerns about sediment overload from the burn scar prompted the town to reach out for state and federal support.

(credit: CBS)

“Not only would it close I-70 if you had a really heavy event, but it would also add a lot of debris to the Colorado River which would then impact everybody downstream who has water intakes, bridges; anything basically within the Colorado River basin or floodway. It could impact them significantly,” said Matthew Langhorst, public works director for Glenwood Springs.

On Friday, alongside Glenwood Mayor Johnathan Godes, Langhorst gave CBS4 a tour of the overhaul.

(credit: CBS)

“We are standing at the No Name Creek intake. It’s the main water source intake for the city of Glenwood Springs,” said Langhorst.

CBS4 followed Langhorst to the intake, about 2 miles outside of No Name Canyon.

“In this location we have upgraded the intake. The concern in this location is debris flow. Anytime we have something that’s a quarter inch of rain or more in one rain event, there’s potential we’ll have a debris flow and that debris flow would most likely hit this intake, so we’ve armored the intake with blocks and steel, and dug out the channel a bit to make it prepared for… basically heavy mud flow events,” said Langhorst.

From the intake at No Name to the water treatment facility in Glenwood, everything needed an upgrade to handle the inevitable mud flows.

“Our pretreatment building has what they call sediment packs in it and what we did there is we took the 1993 technology out and put the 2021 technology in,”  he said. “We can handle a much heavier sediment load — carbon, organics, heavy metals all those things that come off of a burn scar. We rebuilt everything.”

While 80% of the cost at the intake facility is covered through funding by the NRCS, other repairs had to happen so quickly, local lenders stepped up to help with the cost.

“We had enough revenue and in-pocket cash to be able to know that we could do these projects but the timeframe was the kicker on it … we made it happen,” Langhorst continued. “That was the most impressive thing to me to be honest with you. The cooperation between all of the entities .. the BLM, the NRCS, the Forest Service — everybody getting together when there’s a wildfire trying to find as much money as possible that we could throw at the situation because we know what the damage is going to be because of all the previous wildfires in the state of Colorado.”

Colorado is no stranger to wildfires and watershed issues and within a week of the Grizzly Creek Fire, there was a plan.

“We had support from all of our elected officials and really helped us understand what the political process was to be able to access some of these grants,” said Godes.

While some of the repairs happened too fast to apply for grants, Glenwood Springs will continue to make improvements to the watershed.

“Our next project is part of the CWCB loan. We have a third water source on the Roaring Fork that we have water rights to. It’s an emergency water source and we actually turned it on during the Grizzly Creek Fire for a couple weeks when the fire was approaching our intakes, and we were concerned about above grade pipes degrading and basically falling apart,” Laghorst continued. “We are moving forward with a new pipe that relieves that pump station and goes to our water plant so now we will have three sources of water which is not only good if there’s another fire in one of these watersheds — we can turn these off and turn that on, but it’s also good for what may hit us even this year cause we’re trending below 2018 which was a drought year for water availability. We will be able to mix it with this source of water and we’ll be able to supplement and have three different sources of water to meet the needs of the city.”

Going forward, the mayor says disaster preparations like this will be key.

“We have to be planning now I think as a community to have our reserves. Our physical assets reserves and our monetary reserves to a point where every year we have to be thinking … this is maybe not going to happen but there’s a very significant chance it could,” said Godes.

Jamie Leary