Colorado River claims what once was a pond
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO, Colorado
RIFLE, Colo. – The Colorado River’s raging levels might be dropping slowly with the waning of the spring runoff, but it is too late to prevent the loss of roughly a third of Yvonne Chambers’ property.
Chambers, 71, lives along the banks of the river just east of Rifle, and has been watching the high water devour her property since June 15.
“It’s been churning up and eating the ground away,” she told the Post Independent on Monday, as she stared out over what used to be a pond several acres in size, separated from the river by a what also used to be a broad, curved causeway with mature trees reaching skyward.
After piercing the causeway, the river simply carried away pieces of it every day, as well as the trees and some riparian brush. By now, the entire causeway has disappeared, but for one toppled tree in the middle of the river channel.
To the west, the causeway was linked to the adjoining property of the United Companies of Western Colorado, a gravel mining operation just downriver from Chambers.
At that end of the vanished causeway, tree trunks stand amid swirling waters. The riverbank shows sharp bites where large chunks of ground have sloughed off.
To the east, upriver, the river bends north, covering a section of land that is high and dry in the fall and winter, before turning back and racing past Chambers’ land.
“You can walk across there in the winter,” Chambers said, pointing to the bend, now submerged in fast-running water that used to be part of Chambers’ property.
“In my mind, a third of it is underwater,” she said of her 37-acre property, which was part of a much larger ranch that her family established in the early part of the 20th century.
Chambers recalled that she was just 1 year old when the family took over the land. She and her siblings split it among themselves after their parents died.
The pond, she explained, was created by several small gravel-mining operations on river-bottom land her father leased out decades ago.
“It’s been there for most of my life,” she said.
At its midpoint, the causeway held a large cottonwood tree, beneath which there once were chairs, a table and assorted other furniture.
“It was my favorite picnicking spot,” Chambers recalled. The last picnic she hosted there was in October 2009, with family members.
As the waters began rising this spring, she called in friends and family to help move vehicles, a boat, furniture and other possessions out of the water’s path. That potpourri of personal items now sits up on the bench above the river, where her house and other buildings are, while Chambers figures out what to do with it all.
A makeshift boat dock, which once extended into the pond from a spot near the base of that old cottonwood, now languishes along the new riverbank near her home, fastened to the land by ropes.
The main current of the river, to judge by the waves, now rushes over the spot where the old cottonwood once stood.
Inside the lagoon that once was a pond, the current has trapped branches, bits of lumber and other trash.
And there it stays, unable to penetrate back into the rushing current, twirling in eddies and whirlpools created by the inrushing water, before breaking free and floating aimlessly until they are caught again.
Chambers said she contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for help in holding back the floodwaters that had started threatening her property.
‘I’ve been asking them for two years to help me out,” she declared with some heat in her voice, explaining that she wanted the corps to construct some sort of barrier that would direct spring floodwaters away from her causeway.
But no help was forthcoming, she said, although the corps reportedly suggested that she contact them later in the summer. Efforts to reach the corps office in Grand Junction were unsuccessful Monday.
Her neighbors did try to help Chambers out of her predicament.
Employees of the United gravel pit came over one day last week and dumped dirt, gravel, large rocks and pieces of ripped up concrete, known as “rip-rap,” along the eastern edge of her property, hoping to deflect the destructive current and save at least part of the causeway.
“Yesterday, the bank was taller than me,” she said, pointing to a spot where she said the gravel pit workers had extended their barrier out into the channel.
But barrier disappeared overnight, she added, along with a bit more of her property that had jutted out into the river.
“It’s just so sad,” she said, walking along the banks of what used to the pond, but now is the river.
She said this year’s runoff is “the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s really been hard on me.”
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