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The Canal Importation drainage basin spans nearly five square miles in west-central Fort Collins. Three major irrigation canals traverse the basin from north to south and impact the drainage in the basin. The canals can intercept runoff traveling through the basin and transport it out of the basin, and they also spill runoff into the basin when their capacity is exceeded.
The basin, which suffered significant property damage in the flood of 1997, is almost completely urbanized with primarily mixed density residential and isolated commercial land uses. Runoff from the basin empties into the Old Town and Spring Creek basins.
This basin had an original master plan in 1980 with some of the recommended improvements completed or now in progress. A new floodplain was mapped in 2005. Flooding potential continues to be widespread due to significant loss of natural drainage channels and uncontrolled spilling from the canals. A 100-year storm event would result in more than 700 structures being flooded with total damages estimated at $25.6 million.
The recommended plan of improvements would mitigate damages to an estimated 65 structures in the 100-year storm and eliminate major road overtopping and mitigate spills from irrigation canals.
Since the 1997 flood, the City has been working on several capital improvement projects to help reduce the flooding problem in the Canal Importation basin, including the Canal Importation Ponds & Outfall (CIPO) Project.
The master plan update is currently underway. The goal is to address stormwater quality from rainfall runoff and to identify stream restoration projects that protect the city's watersheds.
In September 1938, over four and a half inches of rain fell in 48 hours west of town causing wide spread damage. The Evening Courier reported, "Although almost all ditches had to be shut off at the river to keep them from breaking their banks, drainage kept most of them full." More flooding occurred in August 1951, when over six inches of rain fell in 27 hours, with slightly more than one inch falling in 15 minutes.
The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported, "Mr. Wilkinson said the New Mercer, Larimer County No. 2 and Arthur ditches west of Fort Collins did not have any breaks. However, 'pick-ups' from flash floods caused all of them to overflow, the water flooding the Colorado A&M college campus."
During the morning of August 13, 1975, the basin received nearly four inches of rain. The Coloradoan reported, "The hardest hit section apparently was near Avery Park where the fire department said they discovered one car floating and some people canoeing on Springfield Court." In 1992, two and a half inches of rain fell in a little over an hour. Twenty-five houses in the basin reported damages ranging from water in basements to main floor damage.
Flooding in July 1997 caused significant damage throughout the Canal Importation basin. Water flooded homes and businesses and trapped people in cars.
Streets like Elizabeth and Lake Streets became torrents of water rushing toward the CSU campus. CSU suffered $100 million in damages to buildings and property in the worst flooding ever seen in the area. A storm in April 1999 also caused some minor flooding damage to homes in the basin.