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Residents in Falcon neighborhood pump water to avoid major damage after apparent drainage system failure

FALCON, Colo. (KRDO) -- One of the entrances to the Falcon Highlands neighborhood is inundated with water, as residents try to save their homes after they claim the development’s underground drainage system stopped working.

Cristina Welch has lived in the Falcon Highlands neighborhood for 17 years. She said her sump pump has never turned on. Since May, she said it has been working around the clock, pumping out 40 gallons of water per minute.

“I am not pleased that I have millions of gallons of water circulating my foundation,” Welch said. “It's not what's supposed to happen.”

When the neighborhood was developed in the early 2000s, an underground drainage system in the neighborhood right-of-ways was installed because the area has a high water table and high levels of groundwater. Now residents are worried the system is either clogged or crushed, forcing residents’ individual sump pumps to do the work.

“They're letting it all just come down to our house and they're letting our little noncommercial sump pump it out to the street so that they can avoid their responsibilities,” Welch said.

However, some homeowners’ sump pumps can handle the workload.

“My sump pump has been running since June,” said Josh Whittle, another homeowner. “I have already burnt out one pump and replaced it with a larger pump.”

Whittle said he found flooding issues when he began work on his basement. He said the construction crew tore up the concrete floor to find four inches of water sitting there.

“Since we dug the trenches to do plumbing for the basement they started filling with water,” he said. “They've pumped them out, but it immediately starts filling back as soon as they stop the pump.”

Another homeowner, Kyle Geitzenawer, came home from a work trip to a flooded basement. He said the groundwater level was so high, it just seeped through his concrete floor.

“We had a mitigation company come out and suck water out, tear all the carpet up, rip all the drywall out,” he said. “They were here for two weeks. When they left it was dry on a Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we came to the basement and there were six more inches of water in the basement.”

The larger concern for these homeowners is what all this water has been doing to their foundations.

“It's going to create a possible sinkhole underneath our house,” Geitzenawer said. “We've already had foundation damages. We've already had siting damages. Our house is already starting to shift, so if we don't get this taken care of now, then more issues are going to arise later down the road.”

Not all homeowners have groundwater issues but many are worried if the drainage system isn’t fixed the flooding will spread throughout the neighborhood. To fix it, Welch said the cleanouts for the drainage system need to be raised up to grade and the system needs to be flushed, but homeowners said no one is willing to take responsibility.

“We don't have any other avenues,” Geitzenawer said. “We've brought it to the board. We've brought it to all the utility companies. We've called the county. We've reached out to all of our facets and we can't seem to get an answer.”

The Falcon Highlands Metro District that placed the system in the ground when the neighborhood was first being developed told residents they transferred responsibility to El Paso County. However, El Paso County told residents they don’t take responsibility for drainage systems.

“We can't find anybody to take responsibility,” Geitzenawer said. “So there's multiple different hands in the pot, but nobody wants to maintain the situation.”

13 Investigates reached out to Falcon Highlands Metro District, but it declined to comment. El Paso County said there is no documented evidence that either the county or the metro district is responsible to maintain the drainage system.

We realize this is frustrating for our citizens and are looking into solutions with the Metro District. As things currently stand, there is confusion regarding the responsibility for the specific underdrain system in question. By way of background, El Paso County roads are primarily designed to manage stormwater runoff along the side of, or sometimes under, the roadway. They are not intended or designed to convey groundwater discharged from adjacent properties. While the underdrain was installed within County right-of-way, the County did not accept maintenance responsibility for the underdrain system due to this design limitation.

It's essential to note that there is no confirmed damage to the underdrain system at this point. Homeowners have reported their pumps running constantly, which has led to the assumption of damage. It's possible that historic rains have simply overwhelmed the existing infrastructure, especially considering the already shallow water table in the area.

Attached is the recorded plat for Falcon Highlands Filing No. 1, which was recorded in 2005. You will note that the plat includes a specific note expressing an intent for the Falcon Highlands Metro District to maintain the underdrain system. However, our records indicate that there is no documented evidence indicating the Metro District formally accepted maintenance responsibilities for the underdrain.

We have taken measures to ensure that this lack of clarification does not arise again and will continue to work with the Metro District to resolve the issue.

- El Paso County

“By the authorities not taking responsibility, they're burdening the homeowners with the responsibility of managing the system,” Welch said.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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