Two Gypsum residences cope with three months of basement flooding
Private vs public spat between town, homeowners over source of water is at a standstill
GYPSUM — Last Saturday, a lightning storm passed through Gypsum. Each time John and Kathy Brendza saw the sky light up and heard thunder echo, they cringed.
As 21-year residents of the Gypsum Creek Valley, the Brendzas know that lightning storms often result in power outages. That was the crux of their stress. As the Brendzas see it, they are only one power outage away from a catastrophic flood at their home.
It has been a long, wet summer for the owners of two residences located along Black Bear Drive. On June 24, basement flooding commenced at the two properties. Eventually, both owners installed sump pumps to address the flooding.
According to John Brendza, those pumps how now been running nonstop for nearly three months and have discharged more than 14 million gallons of water. Cruise down the roadway and you will see a steady stream of water running from large hoses along the properties’ driveways, down the gutter and into the neighborhood street drains.
Finding the source
When the water started backing up in their basements, the residents did the logical thing. They contacted the town of Gypsum to determine if there was an infrastructure problem causing the flooding.
“We have done considerable due diligence to eliminate public infrastructure sources,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann. “If it was a problem with our system, it would be in our best interests to find it.”
Rietmann said that after the flooding was first reported back in June, the town sampled the floodwater to check for chlorine. Chlorine would be present if the water was from the town’s municipal system, but the test showed no chlorine in the water samples from the residents’ basements.
“We have since repeated the test on two more occasions and both proved negative,” Rietmann said.
Furthermore, he added that since early July, the town has thoroughly tested other possibilities to rule out flooding causes.
“Our investigations have found no infrastructure culprit,” Rietmann said. “This has included two shutdowns and video inspection of the Ulin Ditch pipeline which passes nearby, leak testing of the Cotton Ranch HOA and golf course irrigation systems, level monitoring of our potable water storage tanks, and video inspections of sewer underdrain lines discharging to the pump-vault located northwest of these residences.”
“Lastly, there was a concern that the golf course ponds that lie immediately behind those houses were the source,” said Gypsum Assistant Town Manager/Town Engineer Jim Hancock. “But the elevation relative to both basements was not high enough to create the flow. The problem is they look out their back doors and see water and say ‘That has to be the cause.’ That’s not the case”
“From the volume of water that they have pumped, it would be impossible for those ponds to be the source. They don’t hold that much water,” Rietmann added.
By a process of elimination, Gypsum officials believe the cause of the flooding is groundwater. The flooding coincides with a record-setting snowpack — the highest in over three decades as of June 6, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Additionally, groundwater issues have popped up at locations around the valley this summer.
While he believes groundwater has contributed to the problem, Brendza doesn’t accept that it is the sole cause of the flooding.
“We were the first family to buy a home in this area 21 years ago and we have never had any flooding. Sump pumps were not installed, because there was no known threat in the area,” he said.
Defining the flooding source isn’t the only issue the homeowners and the town disagree about. They disagree about who’s responsible to find and fund a solution.
Private vs public
“Our position is it is groundwater flooding on private property,” Rietmann said. “That being said, we understand that we are the local government and if there are things we can do to assist, we want to do that.”
But the town believes the homeowners want more than assistance.
“Our impression is the homeowners are looking to the town as the solution. They feel overwhelmed by the problem and want a third party to solve it,” Rietmann said.
While the town is sympathetic to the residents’ issues and willing to help with a solution, Reitmann said Gypsum isn’t financially responsible for problems that occur on private property. He pointed to another 2019 flooding scenario as an example.
“Earlier this summer, the town helped the property owner and residents of the Riverview Trailer Park by mobilizing resources and materials to save two trailer homes from being washed into the Eagle River as high water quickly undercut the riverbank,” Rietmann said. “Fortunately, this mobilization proved effective and saved these homes. Town staff then accounted for all associated costs and forwarded a bill to the property owner for more than $35,000.”
Rietmann noted the property owner was overjoyed with the quick mobilization but, understandably, strained by the cashflow issues resulting from the large bill. The town and the owner agreed to a six-month payment plan.
“The costs of disaster mitigation are being rightly borne by the private property owner, while the town provided significant assistance through our involvement,” Rietmann said.
He said Gypsum can work with the Black Bear residents on a similar basis.
“We can assist with engineering solutions, we can potentially run the project job, and perhaps even front the costs of a permanent solution to minimize the cashflow impacts on these residents and grant them the ability to pay back the costs over some period — effectively a 0% interest loan,” Rietmann said.
But Rietmann and Hancock are adamant that the homeowners themselves need to decide how to address the problem. They said the cost of mitigation ranges from $6,000 to $50,000.
“The thinking seems to be that the town can more easily pay $50,000 to solve this problem,” Hancock said. “But if your house isn’t the one flooding, you probably don’t want to pay to fix it. Should someone in Buckhorn have to pay to fix flooding at Cotton Ranch? That is the criteria that every government has to look at.”
“I fundamentally disagree with some of their (town officials’) assessment that water of this magnitude is the responsibility of the homeowner,” John Brendza said.
He argued that if the flooding involved thousands of gallons of water from a broken irrigation pipe or extreme rainfall, such as what hit the city of Boulder several years ago, he could intellectually accept that it would be the responsibility of the homeowner to mitigate.
“I might not have liked it any more than I do with this current reality, but I know how insurance works and I would have accepted that as the way it was,” John Brendza said. “But the flooding would stop and people could then move on. In this case, however, when you’re dealing with millions of gallons of water, with no end in sight, pouring out of two homes in the town’s boundary, I feel that the local government has the responsibility to assist in identifying the source of the water and determining how to fix it.”
Relief on the way
And so the situation stands.
“There is this feeling that they want us to implement a solution and we are waiting for them to decide what the solution should be,” Hancock said.
Heading toward the winter months, a solution — albeit not a lasting one— looms on the horizon. As the ground freezes, the water will dry up and the flooding should halt.
“The problem will go away, but that’s a poor strategy,” Hancock said, “This could be the new normal and we need to be prepared. It it were my house, I would want assurance it will not happen to me again.”
The homeowners and neighbors from the Cotton Ranch subdivision have reached out to both town staff and Gypsum Town Council members to present their concerns about the situation. Three separate homeowners associations in the area have sent letters to the council requesting the town take action on the issue. John Brendza is advocating a long-term solution from the town to the issue that would redirect water away from homes in the area.
“We just want the water to stop and to not present a future threat to our neighborhood,” he said. “Then we can begin to rebuild and move on without looking over our shoulder wondering when it will happen again.”
Support Local Journalism
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Case numbers for COVID-19 are rising in Eagle County, and just about everywhere else. To save the new ski season, Vail officials are taking new measures to slow the spread, limiting virtually all gatherings to…