SECTION 2.0 Natural Systems

Natural systems are composed of the four primary spheres which encompass the natural environment: lithosphere (rocks, minerals and geology), hydrosphere (water bodies), atmosphere (air), and biosphere (life - animals/plants).
The geology of El Paso County changes from west to east as the rock varies from igneous Pikes Peak Granite to the younger sedimentary rocks of the Dawson Formation and the more recent deposits of unconsolidated, alluvial stream channels and colluvial slopes. Massive homogenous igneous rocks in the west change to steeply dipping sedimentary rocks near the mountain front. Many of the sedimentary rock formations contain paleontological features of ancient lifeforms, such as federally protected remains of large vertebrates including dinosaurs and other extinct species. The landscape then levels out to the nearly flat sandstones and shales generally found in the eastern regions of the county.
Inherent in the type and orientation of bedrock and related soils are geologic hazards and their associated risks.
Surface water is abundant at higher elevations in the western part of the County. Streams tend to flow in an east-west direction in the mountainous areas and north-south in the eastern plains. The rapid movement of surface water, often caused by concentrated heavy rains, may cause erosion, deposition, and flooding. In addition, failure of underground piping and surface collapse may occur where granular soil materials move into subsurface open cavities.
Ground water is available from several identifiable watersheds. The most notable watershed may is Fountain Creek, which runs through the County from north to south. Other significant watersheds include the drainage basins for Black Squirrel, Cherry, and Kiowa Creeks. A large portion of the County located south and east of Highway 24, comprises wind-deposited sands that function as recharge zones for the shallower aquifers of the Black Sauirrel.
Most large standing water bodies, such as reservoirs, are man made and although generally designed for detention and retention, have become important wildlife areas. Habitats along rivers, streams, springs, ponds, and lakes contain the highest density and diversity of wildlife.
The climate of the county varies greatly, from alpine conditions in the higher mountains to the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert in the southern portion of the County. The air of the region tends to be clean except during the inversion season, along transportation routes, and in areas of dense development.
The County’s diverse flora and fauna are primarily the result of variations in the region’s climatic conditions. Five distinct life zones, along with many other transitional plant and wildlife communities, have been identified by the Colorado Department of Wildlife. A change in elevation of more than 9,000 feet and significant variation in the amount of annual precipitation and temperatures contribute to the region’s diversity. Wildlife diversity relies on both the type of plants available and specific climatic conditions. Most habitat zones have an abundance of large animals, such as deer, antelope, elk, bear, and mountain lion, and smaller animals such as rodents and birds. Critical habitats for several of these species have been mapped and included in the County’s "Wildlife Habitat Maps and Descriptors" which has been adopted as a topical element of the County Master Plan.
To accommodate population increases, homes, businesses, and other related infrastructure are constructed which may have a negative effect on the county’s natural systems.
A general lack of public understanding for ecosystem management coupled with intense growth have the potential to eliminate vast portions of habitat. To ensure the continued health of the region as changes are made to the built environment, the preservation and management of its natural systems must be an important consideration.
ISSUE 2.1 Preserve the environment
Traditionally the Pikes Peak region has been revered as a place of beauty where people come to relax and enjoy the natural environment. Time spent recreating or living in the clean mountain air surrounded by abundant wildlife with the rugged mountains in the background can be exhilarating and inspiring. Today many people are moving to El Paso County to enjoy a quality of life that embraces its environmental amenities. Paralleling this growth are new developments and differing cultural and environmental attitudes. The opportunity to live in harmony with nature can only exist if adequate plans are made to ensure its sustainability.
During the late fall and winter months, a haze is often visible over much of the urbanized area of the county that many people agree did not exist until around 1980. Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (P.P.A.C.G.) studies indicate that the "brown cloud" can be attributed to a combination of weather inversions that occur during late fall and winter, trapping pollutants caused by increased fuel exhaust, geological dust and smoke from wood burning appliances. Maintaining and improving current air quality will require continued monitoring and use of control measures appropriate for the county’s growth.
Noise pollution generated from motor vehicles, trucks, trains, airplanes, construction activity, industrial uses and other incidental noise sources constitutes a serious concern. It is not clearly understood how or to what degree human and wildlife populations are affected by noise. Although noise reduction studies are inconclusive, the demands for further noise reduction and elimination will increase as the region further develops.
Public awareness of the threat posed by hazardous materials and wastes has grown in recent years. El Paso County residents have reduced the amount of hazardous materials and wastes being discarded through their voluntary Household Hazardous Waste Collection program. More significant problems have been identified with other past practices which have introduced hazardous wastes into the environment. Local policies for managing the flow of the hazardous materials and waste are limited because much of this responsibility falls under Federal and State jurisdiction.
Goal 2.1 Preserve, enhance, and restore the environment to acceptable health standards.
Policy 2.1.1
Meet the Federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and its amendments.
Policy 2.1.2
Encourage local environmental regulations governing protection of natural resources to be consistent with state and federal regulations.
Policy 2.1.3
Meet regulations and monitoring for the transportation and storage of hazardous materials and wastes.
Policy 2.1.4
Encourage cooperation between public and private entities to implement proper management practices for hazardous materials and wastes.
Policy 2.1.5
Encourage the practice of appropriate management techniques for handling and disposal of hazardous materials and wastes.
Policy 2.1.6
Encourage the control, reduction, and elimination of hazardous materials and wastes at their sources.
Policy 2.1.7
Encourage the adoption of noise level standards which limit or mitigate adverse impacts to surrounding land-owners.
Policy 2.1.8
Carefully consider all proposed land uses adjacent to interstate highways, railroads, military training areas, and in designated flight zones to protect them from associated disruptive noise levels.
Policy 2.1.9
Encourage approaches to land use that promote innovative techniques to protect water quality and encourage mitigation to reduce pollution from non-point sources such as run-off from roads, parking lots and lawn chemicals.
Policy 2.1.10
Promote public awareness of programs that improve air and water quality and reduce hazardous wastes and materials.
Policy 2.1.11
encourage approaches to natural system preservation and protection which also accommodate reasonable development opportunities.
Issue 2.2 Preserve and enhance the region’s unique flora and fauna.
The region’s mountains, prairies, and waterways are home to a great diversity of plant and animal life and are amenities that serve to entice more visitors and new residents to the area every year.
Several wildlife species are fairly adaptable but due to their territorial or herding instincts require relatively large expanses of undeveloped land for healthy survival. Generally, when development occurs, there is little planning to accommodate the resident wildlife that rely on the land for their survival. Wildlife must compete for smaller and fewer territories as more land area is occupied by development. Homes on large lot subdivisions are often fenced which decreases the amount of land available for wildlife. The transportation network of roads necessary to accommodate the travel demands of the County’s growing exurban communities serves to further divide and diminish wildlife territories and corridors. Competition for land sometimes leads to hostile encounters which usually result in the destruction of wildlife. Increasing wildlife destruction can be observed along road sides each year. Encounters with predators, including bear and mountain lions, are a rare but ever present concern.
Riparian and wetland areas are being displaced by development. These areas are necessary to sustain many species of resident and migratory wildlife and often provide opportunities for aesthetic recreational areas. They also serve as natural filtration systems for non-point source pollutants such as fertilizers, sediment, and pesticides. Therefore, wetlands are important whether they occur along stream channels or in other areas.
Mitigating destruction to riparian areas by development combined with effective long range planning and management is critical to wildlife sustainability which is one of many factors that contributes to the quality of life in the Pikes Peak region.
Goal 2.2
Protect the flora and fauna found in the County’s five life zones and transitional communities.
Policy 2.2.1
Encourage a coordinated and systematic planning approach to identify, locate and protect critical areas of wildlife habitat from all five life zones and transitional communities.
Policy 2.2.2
Encourage coordinated public and private approaches to preserve, restore and mitigate losses of significant wildlife habitat.
Policy 2.2.3
Evaluate the impact from proposed developments on watersheds and wildlife habitat with appropriate governmental agencies early in the development process.
Policy 2.2.4
Provide incentives to encourage development to incorporate sensitive planning that ensures the protection of watersheds and wildlife habitat.
Policy 2.2.5
Encourage mitigation of all adverse impacts to wetlands and riparian habitat.
Policy 2.2.6
Encourage particular attention be given to any unique, rare, or especially fragile flora and fauna.
Policy 2.2.7
Comply with requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act .
Policy 2.2.8
Encourage the protection and preservation of state listed endangered and threatened species, species of special concern, and species with immediate conservation needs.
Policy 2.2.9
Encourage education strategies that address opportunities for public participation in ongoing efforts to preserve the natural environment.
Policy 2.2.10
Encourage preservation of open space in the design of subdivisions.
Issue 2.3 Preserve and enhance significant natural landscapes and features.
As population densities increase in the unincorporated county, more land area is being used for development. Many large ranches, which once made up much of the County, have been transformed into 35 acre and smaller residential exurban subdivisions. Significant natural landscapes including mountain slopes, wetlands, waterways, unusual vegetation and naturally sculptured rock formations as well as geological resources continue to be built upon, covered or modified to the extent that they lose their aesthetic value.
The elimination of geologic resources and the destruction of significant natural features are not always intentional. One reason for this is that comprehensive guidelines have not been established to identify and classify significant natural features or plan for their preservation. Planning is necessary to protect against future inadvertent and avoidable losses.
In addition to planning for their protection, conservation of environmental amenities through a practical balance of high-density land use, amenity-sensitive development, and guidelines for set back and avoidance may influence both present and future development and encourage mitigation of past mistakes and prevention of future problems.
Goal 2.3 To preserve and enhance geologic features, significant natural landscapes, and waterways.
Policy 2.3.1
Preserve significant natural landscapes and features.
Policy 2.3.2
Encourage the development of a County-wide plan to systematically identify, classify, and provide guidelines for the protection of significant natural features and landscapes.
Policy 2.3.3
Consider the guidelines in the El Paso County Master Plan for the preservation and protection of significant natural features when reviewing development proposals.
Policy 2.3.4
Develop a systematic data base to inventory paleontological sites that have been unearthed.
Policy 2.3.5
Encourage the use of innovative siting and design techniques to identify, enhance, and, where appropriate, incorporate and protect significant natural features and waterways.
Policy 2.3.6
Consider the Natural Systems Inventory and identify significant geological features prior to granting subdivision or development approval.
Policy 2.3.7
Encourage mitigation of adverse visual impacts caused by construction including roadcuts, utility lines, outside storage, water tanks and building scale.
Policy 2.3.8
Encourage incorporating significant natural landscapes and waterways into parks and open space where feasible.
Issue 2.4 Identify and locate possible geologic hazards that may RESULT IN destruction of life and property.
Geologic hazards are usually related to the movement of water and/or the structure and composition of the underlying bedrock. Although the County is aware of and has developed mechanisms to consider flooding problems along with some of the erosion and deposition problems, many geologic hazards have not been systematically included when land use is addressed. Generally the public is unaware of the serious dangers present when developing in areas with geologic hazards. In addition to inadequate warning systems, protection by law is rare, and home owners insurance usually does not cover damage caused by geological hazards.
The need for better planning in areas with geological hazards is clear. Examples of such hazards include flooding, erosion and deposition, landslides, slumps, rock fall, swelling clays and rocks, and subsidence and piping. Planning guidelines to reduce the associated risks from geological hazards are necessary for public safety.
Goal 2.4 Minimize damage from geologic hazards.
Policy 2.4.1
Develop an ongoing coordinated, systematic and comprehensive approach to study, identify, locate, and classify areas where geologic hazards may occur.
Policy 2.4.2
Develop public safety guidelines and/or educational materials to explain the risks associated with developing in identified geological hazard areas.
Policy 2.4.3
Develop a systematic process that informs the public about the dangers of geologic hazards.
Policy 2.4.4
Encourage more and better methods of notifying potential property investors and the public of the risks and liabilities associated with developing in identified geological hazard zones.
Note Sections: 3.0 Water Resources, 8.0 Parks and Open Space, 9.0 Transportation, 10.0 Water and Wastewater, 11.0 Drainage and Flood Protection, and, 12.0 Other Utilities and services.

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