Why our Waterways Matter
The water that flows around, through, and under Colorado Springs is a critical component of the health of our city. As a resident of, or visitor to, Colorado Springs, it's important that you understand its vital role in our ecosystem and your impact on it. To do that, you need to be familiar with a handful of key terms and concepts.
A watershed is a geographic basin, into which all of the water on the land surface in a particular area flows including rainwater and snow melt. The management of watersheds is extremely important because they impact the city's supply and quality of water. Watersheds also affect an area's risk of flooding and the resulting damage to property and infrastructure that can occur.
Colorado Springs is in the Fountain Creek Watershed, which extends 927 square miles from Palmer Lake to Pueblo and is one of the most erratic watersheds in the nation due to the following reasons:
- The natural settling of decomposing Pikes Peak granite
- A 9,500-foot elevation change over 60 miles
- More than 50 intermittently flowing creeks
- Rapid development of the city of Colorado Springs
- Two major fires in the last five years and subsequent flooding
- There is much work to be done to continually restore and protect our watershed’s health.
A floodplain is a low-lying area of land close to a stream or river that is susceptible to flooding. Flooding is influenced by factors such as increased rainfall, the topography of the land, and the capabilities of the city's drainage system. Communities have historically been built on floodplains because the land is flat and close to a source of fresh water. It's important that you know whether or not you live or work in or near a floodplain because flooding in these areas can occur very quickly and cause major property damage, injury, and loss of life. It's also important to be mindful of weather conditions that have the potential to cause flooding and also to take appropriate precautions and avoid hazardous areas.
The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department's Floodplain Management Office provides floodplain management services for Colorado Springs.
Stormwater is any water that originates from rain, snow, or snow/ice melt.
Depending on the surface it lands on, it can:
- Soak into the soil (what's known as "infiltrating")
- Be retained on the surface and evaporate
- Or make its way to creeks, ponds, etc. either by flowing along the surface or being channeled by stormwater infrastructure.
The important thing to know about stormwater is that unlike the water that leaves your home through your plumbing system and then travels to a treatment plant, stormwater is not treated in any way before it enters a body of water. Consequently, any harmful substances it flows over or through can be carried to natural water features and potentially cause harm to that ecosystem.
Creeks & Ponds
Colorado Springs has a number of creeks and ponds. These natural water features impact our city in many positive ways, from enhancing the aesthetic appeal of our area, to nurturing an abundance of plants and animals. It's to everyone's advantage that we take good care of them.
Sediment is material that settles to the bottom of a liquid. In nature, you might think of it as the dirt or "silt" at the bottom of a creek, pond, sewer line, etc. While sediment is naturally occurring, to a degree, an excess amount can become harmful to the body of water in which it settles, and damaging to infrastructure. For this reason, a great deal of time, effort, and capital is invested in monitoring and managing the movement of sediment. For example, street sweeping operations that many people believe are performed simply to make streets look clean are actually conducted primarily to minimize the flow of sediment into our waterways.
Detention and retention basins are both manufactured features designed to capture stormwater to protect against flooding and the erosion of nearby waterways. Detention basins are meant to hold the water until it dissipates/evaporates, whereas retention basins are designed to have a permanent pool of water with room for additional water as needed.
Taking Care of Our Waterways
The key takeaway from this information is that all the elements of our waterway system work together to ensure the health of our city, the natural areas surrounding it, and communities downstream. It's a fragile balance that we must all do our part to help maintain. In particular, the stormwater component is one where we all have a significant impact, and it is up to us to decide whether our impact will be positive or negative.