Crews address issues on Elk River in North Routt |

Crews address issues on Elk River in North Routt

Temperatures remained low at high elevations Friday, stalling snowmelt

Water from the Elk River was rising rapidly near this home Friday on Routt County Road 42. Routt County Road and Bridge crews were dealing with issues along the Elk to the north.

— As the Elk River moved beyond flood stage Friday, Routt County officials and residents at either end of the swollen stream were reacting to water on roads and snags that threatened bridges.

Routt County Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper said at mid-afternoon that earlier in the day the water on Routt Country Road 44, not far from the confluence of the Elk and Yampa rivers about eight miles west of Steamboat, was 8 to 10 inches deep. It was action taken by the Colorado Department of Transportation to build a berm out of barrels, Draper said, that kept water from running across the highway. But the same action deflected more of the flow onto C.R. 44.

CDOT officials were not available to comment on the situation at the Elk River and U.S. Highway 40 late Friday afternoon.

Property owners in the neighborhood had sent a written appeal Tuesday to federal, state and local agencies asking for immediate evaluations of the hydrology on the lower Elk River where it flows under the highway. Their fear was that the river was poised to carve a new channel, inundate box culverts that were inadequate to handle the flood and threaten the highway and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the south side of U.S. 40.

"It is our opinion that if the bank is not immediately armored with rocks and stabilized, that the river will break out and create a new channel flowing to the west of the current channel. If this were to happen, it is our feeling that the highway, railroad embankment and RCR 44 going north would be inundated and closed," the appeal states.

Draper said although he is not a hydrologist, he thinks the broad floodplain along the Elk near the confluence will cause the water to spread out rather than cutting a new channel.

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To the north, Draper said, Road and Bridge crews have succeeded in removing tree trunks from the abutments of two bridges over the Elk. The first was at the Moon Hill Bridge just below Clark, and the second was a U.S. Forest Service Bridge on C.R. 64 (Seedhouse Road) in Hinman Park.

Snagged tree trunks tend to collect more debris and, by deflecting the streamflow, can put pressure on bridges where they weren't designed to withstand it, leading to damage, Draper said.

Snowpack persists

The Elk River is being fed by persistent snowpack above 8,000 feet in North Routt County.

Longtime resident Leslie Lovejoy said the snow in her yard north of Columbine on C.R. 129 is still 2 feet deep and firm.

"I went for a run on top of the (frozen) snow this morning," she said Friday.

Remote snowpack monitoring sites maintained by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service suggested Friday that little melting was occurring. At the Lost Dog snotel at 9,320 feet elevation along the headwaters of the Elk River, the temperature at 2 p.m. Friday was just 37 degrees. There was still 62 inches of snow on the ground containing 36 inches of water.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

Affected Routt County roads

■ C.R. 80 — As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, the road had slid into the canyon at Barnes Hill in California Park north of Hayden. County crews were assessing the damage.

■ As of 11:30 a.m. Friday, crews had removed snags from the Elk River at Moon Hill Bridge (C.R. 129) and in Hinman Park (C.R. 64)

■ C.R.129 is closed 5 miles north of Columbine, where it washed out near Midnight Ranch.

■ C.R. 44 — As of 4:45 p.m. Friday, the wing walls on the Roper Bridge were observed to be failing.

■ C.R. 52E — Also at 4:45 p.m. Friday, 52E near Deep Creek in the mid Elk River Valley, Salt Creek was eroding the road near its bridge.

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