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Watersheds Damaged By Grizzly Creek Fire Could Be Contaminated By Heavy Rain, Runoff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)- It's a race against the clock to repair watersheds damaged by the Grizzly Creek Fire. According to the Glenwood Springs mayor, it's one heavy storm away from contamination.

glenwood canyon2
(credit: CBS)

"Before the spring and the spring runoff comes, we need an influx of capital and ideas to really make sure when we turn on the taps come April and May, that it's not a bunch of ash," said Jonathan Godes, Mayor of Glenwood Springs.

On Thursday, a caravan of federal, state, and local officials came together at ignition site of the fire, just off Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, vowing to help find ways to secure funding.

Godes, standing alongside Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, expressed confidence, they would work together to get the repairs done.

"We're scared and to hear people like that say we got this has been great," said Godes, addressing the crowd of officials.

glenwood canyon
(credit: CBS)

The Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), were two of the agencies present Thursday and both are working on securing funding for near term solutions. The NRCS said there is a little window of opportunity, before larger permanent projects can begin in the spring.

The permanent solution would be a new water treatment plant. Godes estimated that could cost as much as $15 million and in the next 6 months, he said he expects emergency fixes to the current plant will cost millions.

"We just can't write a $20 million check and so anytime that we can get help, expertise, funding from any entity, we're right there, we need it," he said

Currently, with any forecast of heavy precipitation, Godes says someone must physically hike up to the water treatment facility to shut off the head gates and transfer the water to backup pumps.

"When there's a forecast of significant rain, we have to go shut that off. Now, we have backup pumps that we can pump water from the Roaring Fork river, but that water is a different turbidity, it's a different salinity; it has different chemical loads so we have to treat that with three times as much chemicals, we have to put it through a completely different process, and so we either have to be on one system or the other and so if there's a forecast again- it's all about all about trying to keep the ash and the silt and the slurry out of the system, and so once that gets into the system, we have problems and so that's what our situation is right now," he said.

It's a double-edged sword. Godes knows, this year especially, rain is essential.

grizzly creek fire on Aug. 11
Grizzly Creek Fire (credit: CBS)

"…but not so much that it brings down all that debris, and that silt and ash. So, we would just love a gentle rain, every couple of days for the next 5 years," he joked.

Godes knows it's wishful thinking, heavy rain is inevitable. Without funding, it's not just the water supply for Glenwood Springs that would be impacted.

"It's something that we're not dealing with on our own because there's communities downstream from us that are also going to be impacted by the quality that pulls off the Colorado River, and so we're working with them as well to make sure that we, as a region, can bounce back from this."

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