Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The typical late summer afternoon monsoon storms have arrived in Chaffee County. While the arrival of the moisture is most welcome after an abnormally dry late spring and early summer, the rains also signal runoff damage in the Decker Fire burn areas.

The Sunday evening storm dropped at least 1.75 inches of moisture in the Bear Creek drainage, causing creek flows across CR 101, and major damage to the roadway as the creek undercut the road base. Chaffee Road and Bridge Supervisor Mark Stacy had his road crews out immediately repairing the road damage.

“We had some significant rain totals,” said Chaffee Chair of the Board of County Commissioners Greg Felt, speaking late Monday afternoon, July 27. He described the wall of burn debris that hit Bear Creek as “a delta of debris.” He added that there was some concern about the muddy sludge damaging a down-river fishery on the Arkansas River, but a check on Monday revealed that most of the sludge had moved through and the river had largely cleared.

“The wells gauges jumped up about 400-500 cfs (cubic feet per second). When it hits the river, it pancakes out a bit, more so than on a stream gauge… it did do some road damage that we have repaired,” said Felt.

Felt cautioned that the county was expecting more runoff Monday night and Tuesday. He noted that debris flow off the burn area did do some damage to a home in the burn area, saying “the Arkansas River Water Collaborative was up there sandbagging that house, it has some damage.”

The concrete-like flow off the Chalk Cliffs, filled “the dip” on CR 162 after a July 27, 2020 storm. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The Chaffee Office of Emergency Management Director Rich Atkins cautioned county leaders that his communications with the National Weather Service indicated that substantial, slow-moving storms predicted for the area late on Monday and into Tuesday. “It’s heavy rain and its slow-moving. On Sunday according to their statistics, we received 2 inches in 20 minutes on the Bear Creek area.”

At dusk on Monday, torrential rains over the Chalk Creek Canyon area caused the infamous “dip” to flow for the first time this summer season. While the debris was ten feet deep in places, the evening’s storm did not approach the epic flows of last summer, when massive boulders and trees were mixed into debris fields that were 20 to 25 ft. deep.

By 10 p.m. Monday night, Chaffee Road and Bridge began clearing the dip, working past midnight to open CR 162.

Chalk Cliffs the morning after a July 27 monsoon storm caused “the dip” to flow. Photo by Jan Wondra.

“Flow” is a term that does not fully describe the action of hundreds of thousands of pounds of debris propelled by water and given momentum by gravity off the famous Chalk Cliffs. The natural process is a continuous reshaping of the spires of the cliffs.

The mix of water, chalky granite, and whatever else the torrent pulls loose, creates a sort of natural concrete that can take a car that drives into it where it crosses CR 162 over the drop-off toward the Chalk Creek below.

Along with the astounding flows, which appear to be almost unique in the world, the roar of the dip when flows are moving is something one does not easily forget.

Featured image: Bear Creek CR 101 damage from the July 26 storm. Photo by Regional Emergency Manager, Mike McHargue.