Runoff coming down in waves
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Water levels in the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers hit their biggest peak since June 1997 during the past three days, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Avery said Monday.
And barring a heavy rainstorm that could once again raise those levels, both rivers are thought to have hit their biggest stages of the year, he said.
Avery said area rivers normally don’t hit their peak until the second or third week in June, but atypically-high temperatures during the last part of May rapidly melted the mountain snowpack and sent runoff gushing down the state’s streams and rivers.
“There was some minor flooding on the Crystal River, but for the most part it behaved itself,” Avery said of the snowmelt. “It would take a great deal of precipitation to get the rivers above that.”
As of Monday afternoon, the year’s highest level recorded for the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs was 7,410 cubic feet per second, or cfs, at 2:45 a.m. on Saturday, May 31.
The Colorado River in Glenwood Springs just below the Roaring Fork River confluence peaked at 18,400 cfs for several hours on Monday morning.
The high water compelled water experts to utter phrases like “bank-full” and “near flood stage” for the first time in years. Avery explained that both the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers were above bank-full, but both stayed about 1.5 feet below flood stage.
“These are pretty high flows for this time of the year,” he said. “Overall, it was a pretty good runoff. If people are into rafting, this is the week to do it.”
From a water manager’s point of view, the rapid runoff might have helped gather even more water than a normal runoff, Colorado River Water Conservation District education specialist Peter Roessmann said.
“It may be beneficial that it’s carrying it off rapidly,” he said. “There’s less evaporation of snowpack.”
That means more water is carried to the state’s thirsty reservoirs and can be stored for future needs.
The full rivers translate into fuller-than-expected reservoirs across the Western Slope.
As of Monday, Dillon Reservoir was at 62 percent of capacity, Green Mountain Reservoir was at 47 percent of capacity, Ruedi Reservoir was at 61 percent of capacity and the Williams Fork Reservoir was at 34 percent of capacity, and all reservoirs are still filling.
Roessmann also said the state’s drought classifications are beginning to change. The northeastern part of the state is considered “abnormally dry.”
“Abnormally dry, compared to the past few years, is fairly rosy,” Roessmann said.
Most of the Western Slope, however, is still listed as being in moderate to extreme drought, he said.
“Basically, the entire Colorado River Basin still exists in some form of drought,” he said.
While flood warnings were rescinded in much of the state by Monday, some Vail residents were dealing with the aftermath of a flood Sunday caused by a combination of melting snow and heavy rain. Flood warnings remained in effect in and around Steamboat Springs.
In Vail, flows raged down Bighorn Creek and broke through an underground culvert, sending water into a nearby neighborhood and opening up a 22-foot-wide sinkhole that closed Interstate 70.
In Steamboat Springs, the National Weather Service warned that recent rains brought additional increases to the already-flooding Yampa River. On Sunday night, the river was at its third-highest peak since records were kept beginning in 1904.
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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