Parachute Creek flooding dissipates, but town still on guard |

Parachute Creek flooding dissipates, but town still on guard

On Monday, Parachute resident Steve Graham stands where floodwater from the creek in the background meets the part of his property that's not underwater.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Murky sludge persistently splashed against the base of Howie Orona’s creek bridge as he pulled out his smartphone. He pointed to a video of a backhoe reaching over to dislodge massive logs caught underneath his bridge.

“Our biggest worry is log jams,” Orona said, Monday’s afternoon sun pouring onto his baseball cap. “That first night when (water) started getting up to the bridge, two big logs got under it.”

“Three o’clock in the morning we were calling for help.”

The Parachute property and ranch manager lives on a luscious piece of real estate about a mile north of town. It’s flanked by Mt. Callahan and bisected by a tree-guarded Parachute Creek, which continues to discharge one of Colorado’s most powerful runoffs in years.

Parachute residents Steve and Cindy Graham look at one of their back sheds encircled by flood water from Parachute Creek on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Signs of flooding started early last week. By last Friday, Parachute Creek’s depth broke its former record and peaked at 9.98 feet, data from a creek monitoring station shows. The old record was reached in 1976: a depth of 9.47 feet.

The overflowing water continued to gobble up Orona’s creekside land where tree trunks are typically visible to the ground. Meanwhile, for the past week now rising waters have swept out backyard fences, forced people to relocate lawn furniture, quagmired trampolines so badly they’re unusable.

At least 16 buildings and homes in Parachute were under threat. As of Monday, at least three homes were still taking in water.

“Luckily, we’ve had three days of clear weather here that have dropped it about a foot,” Orona said of the creek.

Town Manager Travis Elliott estimated last week that cooler weather would help better tame the roaring waters. Sunday in Parachute was praised for reaching the low 60s, Monday heated up to about 75 and, fingers crossed, the thermostat line decreases over this week.

Flood water covers the backyard of Parachute residents Cindy and Steve Graham on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“At least it’s not getting worse at this point,” Elliott said on Monday, adding that the city is keeping track of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. “We’re expecting to see runoff and flows pick back up over the next three days.”

It’s not like current flooding in Parachute is declared a disaster by any government entity, nor has it prompted any state or federal aid. Instead, this isolated town on the fringes of Garfield and Mesa counties has handled the situation in a more neighborly fashion.

Garfield County has provided sandbags for filling. Towns folk — from Mayor Tom Rugaard, seniors and children to church groups and local wrestlers — have filled thousands of bags with sand. The bags surround and protect backyards from what have now turned into impromptu moats surging from Parachute Creek.

Elliott said the town of Parachute also decided on digging out a massive ditch in its parks and recreation property near Cottonwood Park. The goal: divert flood water.

Cottonwood’s ball field, volleyball court and horseshoe pit were, last week, submerged in creek water, a flow that peaked at about 1,150 cubic feet per second at 6:45 p.m. Friday. By Monday, the makeshift ditch did its job and the flood water was practically dissipated at the whole park. Even a nearby sewer lift station was spared from damage.

Parachute Town Manager Travis Elliott, left, and resident Howie Orona stand on Orona’s bridge, which spans across an overflowing Parachute Creek on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Parachute’s excavator got stuck digging the ditch, however, prompting neighboring Rifle to provide an extra, Elliott joked.

Parachute residents Steve and Cindy Graham stood hand on hip on their back patio Monday. Lawn chairs and hoses sat conspicuously on the high ground as their sheds, propane tanks and planters were encircled by a milky froth of invading creek water. The silt itself was about 4-6 inches deep, Steve estimated.

“It’s nothing that can’t be replaced,” he said of the lawnmowers and tools in his sheds. 

The Grahams moved to their current Parachute location south of Interstate 70 in 2019. Their backyard, flanked by Parachute Creek, hasn’t really experienced flooding so far, they said. There was some overflow last year and someone had to toss a deviating brown trout back into the stream — but other than that, all good.

“The big thing is the debris coming down — the stuff that’s backing up the water,” Cindy said. “And the future cleanup.”

“The city employees, the mayor, the kids, the high school all pitched in,” Cindy later added. “The community has been great.”

Steve pointed to his neighbor’s house adjacent to his property.

Flood water splashes against Parachute resident Howie Orona’s private bridge on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“We were never really concerned about our property because we’re up on a higher plain,” Steve said. “But they’re on the floodplain, and that’s been our biggest concern is our neighbor over there.”

As of May 1, according to the Colorado Water Supply Outlook, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin headwaters showed it was above normal at 134% of the median. Elsewhere, this powerful spring runoff caused mudslides at Red Mountain in Glenwood Springs and in Glenwood Canyon, closing down the Hanging Lake Trail last week.

Elliott hopes Parachute doesn’t deal with flooding like this for another 50 years. But if it happens any sooner, the town is on standby, equipped with thousands of extra sandbags.

“We’re not letting down our guard yet,” Elliott said.

Post Independent Assistant Editor and lead western Garfield County reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at or 612-423-5273.

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