John Stroud

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June 8, 2011
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Raging river damages Glenwood Canyon bike path

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Portions of the Glenwood Canyon bicycle path have collapsed as a result of undercutting from the runoff-swollen Colorado River, Colorado Department of Transportation officials reported Tuesday.

Elsewhere around Garfield County, CDOT temporarily closed the Bair Ranch rest area on the east end of Glenwood Canyon.

The Rifle rest area near the main Rifle interchange on Interstate 70 was also closed due to flood waters. Crews were busy there Tuesday building a clay-soil berm to help protect nearby homes against the rising water, CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks said.

Other flood-related closures in the county included County Road 311 (the Rifle-Rulison Road), Rifle Mountain Park, and Silt's island park along the Colorado River south of town.

As is typical each spring, the Glenwood Canyon path was closed to users in early May when the rising waters began to inundate it in some sections.

Now, it could be a while before the path reopens again, even after the water levels go back down.

"In the places where the water has receded, we know there are sections where the concrete has collapsed," CDOT Maintenance Supervisor Steve Quick said. "When the water goes down, we'll assess any additional damage, make necessary repairs and ensure it's safe for travel before reopening it."

The Colorado River through the canyon, as of Tuesday afternoon, was running more than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) above its average springtime peak, according to CDOT estimates based on readings taken at the Shoshone Power Plant, just west of Hanging Lake Tunnel along Interstate 70.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado River was running at 18,100 cfs through Glenwood Canyon. The average springtime peak in that section is around 14,000 cfs, according to CDOT data.

At one point near Shoshone, the river was up to the railing that runs along the bike path, which is about 48 inches above the path itself, Shanks said.

And east of Bair Ranch, the bike path passes back and forth under I-70 through two 8-foot-tall tunnels. On Tuesday, the tunnels were flooded with about six feet of water, she said.

Elsewhere along the Colorado River, below Glenwood Springs, the flow at 4 p.m. Tuesday was 24,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey real-time water data website. That level surpassed the previous maximum flow for June 7 of 22,400 cfs established in 1997. At the Colorado-Utah state line, the river was running at 44,700 cfs.

The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs was also on the rise, topping 8,100 cfs early in the day Tuesday, before dropping to about 6,500 cfs later in the day, according to the USGS data.

In Rifle, CDOT crews were monitoring the situation at the rest area.

"We could ultimately have to create some additional barriers, if necessary," Shanks said. "We'll just have to wait and see how much higher the water gets."

Rifle Mountain Park, located along Rifle Creek north of Rifle Gap Reservoir, was to remain closed until mid- to late-June, a city parks official said.

The Silt park, located on an island in the Colorado River near County Road 311, was also under water on Tuesday and was to be closed indefinitely.

The Rifle-Rulison Road was be closed for at least a week due to damage from high water.

River levels typically rise throughout the day as temperatures increase, often reaching peak flows during the nighttime hours when the snowmelt makes its way to the river valleys.

Given the amount of snowpack still in the high country, though, it's hard to predict when peak runoff will hit, said Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for eastern Eagle and Garfield counties, as well as other parts of western Colorado on Tuesday. But many rivers still were not quite at flood stage, Strautins said.

"There's still a lot of snow up there," he said. "If we get the right weather pattern and right temperatures, it will melt the snow quickly and that's when we'll see a peak flow."

So far, temperatures have stayed in the normal range, meaning the snowmelt has been slower, Strautins said. That could change with a couple of above-normal temperature days, he said.

The high water has local rafting companies taking precautions, but also anticipating a better-than-average rafting season.

"We do have certain sections we're not running right now due to the water levels," said Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures in Glenwood Springs.

"But we do have a lot of access points where we can offer abbreviated trips that provide a good class III-level experience for people," he said. "A lot of the high water right now is on the Colorado River, but the Roaring Fork is actually below the peaks we saw last year at this time."

A popular run of late has been from just below Carbondale and the Crystal River and onto the Roaring Fork River to Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs.

"We expect to see the peak within the next few days," Drake said. "And with the warm temperatures, business has been good. We do field a lot of questions about the river levels, and rightfully so. We're always pleased to see people have respect for the river."

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 8, 2011 10:48AM Published Jun 8, 2011 10:46AM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.