Fire or flood — what a difference a year makes for western Eagle County homeowners
Gypsum residents have been running sump pumps to address high groundwater issues
GYPSUM — Last year’s tinder-dry weather had residents of western Colorado anxiously watching conditions for fire danger.
This year’s heavy snowpack and rainy spring and early summer stand in stark contrast, but the wet conditions are bringing their own concerns. Most prominently, some downvalley neighborhoods have reported recent groundwater flooding.
“This has really caught some residents by surprise,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann. “We have people who have lived here for two or three decades and never experienced anything like this.”
Rietmann said the neighborhoods most impacted by this summer’s high groundwater have been Chatfield Corners and the northern part of Cotton Ranch. Officials in Eagle said they have not had specific groundwater flooding reports, but noted residents have been running sump pumps to address the issue.
According to Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock, the groundwater issue starts with nearby river flows. As the river rises, so does the groundwater table.
“What we have in the Gypsum Creek Valley, and in a lot of valleys in Colorado, is a cobble layer underground where the water flows,” he said. “It is not static and it is recharged and depleted seasonally.”
But this season has seen a lot of water in that cobble layer and some residents are reporting groundwater seeping into basements and crawl spaces.
Snapshot in time
The town gained first-hand experience with groundwater geology when it built the Gypsum Town Hall and Gypsum Recreation Center. Various mitigations were required to address the situation. But the average homeowner may be having his or her first introduction to the situation this summer.
Soils testing is required as part of new construction, but it is no guarantee that groundwater potential, such as what is happening this year, will be revealed. Rather, a soils test is a snapshot in time. Some years a test will show bone dry conditions at a location with high groundwater in other years.
“I think what is frustrating for residents is this is such a rare occurrence,” Rietmann said.
When residents started reporting groundwater flooding, many thought the situation must have been the result of town infrastructure failure. Town officials tried shutting down the community’s irrigation systems and halting the water flow at the Elin Ditch. They even quit filling the ponds at the Gypsum Creek Golf Course. But none of these trouble-shooting efforts had any effect on the flooding.
“We have the same interest as homeowners do in making sure our systems are operating properly,” Rietmann said.
The town’s investigation showed that the issue was not tied to infrastructure, but rather to the high groundwater table.
“The groundwater is a natural phenomenon and there really isn’t anything the town can do about it,” Hancock said. “You can’t pump the ocean.”
While it was good news that Gypsum’s systems were not at fault, affected residents likely received some bad news.
“If you have had your basement damaged, your homeowners’ insurance is not likely to cover it,” Rietmann said.
What can be done?
“We have noticed that homeowners who have some construction knowledge seemed to recognize what was happening and put in a sump pump to solve the problem,” Rietmann continued.
“The first thing you want to do is take away the water source,” Hancock said.
The next step is to thoroughly dry out the area to avoid mold. That may mean tearing out affected drywall.
Rietmann said installing a sump pump and getting a sump pump failure coverage rider on a homeowners policy is the safest way to deal with the issue of groundwater flooding. But for residents affected this year, it’s too late to take that action. For now, the only course of action is to wait for conditions to dry out and deal with the damages.
Hancock said anyone who has questions or concerns about groundwater issues can call him at 970-524-1728.
“I am confident the groundwater will dissipate. I just can’t say when,” Hancock said.
Yunlong Chen was last spotted at the Vail Transportation Center between 8:15 and 9 a.m. on Feb. 28; a little while later his ski pass was scanned at Gondola One. That was the last known activity related to Chen.