Elk River near Steamboat breaks streamflow record | SteamboatToday.com

Elk River near Steamboat breaks streamflow record

River peaks with 100-year flood; waters expected to recede until weekend

Pilot & Today staff

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic technicians Mark Henneberg, left, and Michael Gustafson measure the flow of the Elk River on Tuesday morning.

— The Elk River broke its all-time record early Tuesday, according to provisional data recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey.

A measuring station at the Routt County Road 42 bridge measured the peak at 7,520 cubic feet per second at 4:45 a.m.

"Preliminarily, that is a new peak of record," said Michael Lewis, associate director of the USGS Colorado Water Science Center.

Lewis said there was a 1 percent chance that Tuesday's flow would be exceeded in a given year, meaning the Elk River experienced a 100-year event.

The record is based on about 40 years' worth of data. The data are from 1904 to 1927 and 1990 to 2010. The gap represents a period when the measuring station was not operated, Lewis said.

The record breaks the record that was set last year, when the Elk peaked at 6,970 cfs on June 8.

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"It was back-to-back big years," Lewis said.

The 100-year flooding event was apparent west of Steamboat Springs, where property owners repeatedly reported never seeing the water this high.

"This is 7,000 cfs, give or take," Bob Struble said while driving along C.R. 44 overlooking the flooding. "I can't imagine what 10,000 cfs would be like."

Struble, Routt County's emergency management director,

was bracing for that number after seeing an earlier forecast.

Struble surveyed the flooding early Tuesday and visited with affected property owners.

"A little bit of water this morning," Connie Fry said, looking at the river water inundating her yard and coming within feet of her home near C.R. 44 and U.S. Highway 40. "I've been here 30 years, and it's never been this high."

Fry also owns a small cabin across the road that was surrounded by water. Her aunt used to live in the cabin, which was built in 1949.

"There is only one time they had to bring the chickens in because the water was so high," Fry said.

Tom Peretic rents the cabin now with his family, and they were prepared for the high water, which breached their sandbags but did not reach the floor of the home.

"We'll wait until it goes down today, fix some sandbags, and hopefully we'll be OK," Peretic said.

Struble told the Peretic and Fry families that the Elk is expected to drop, but they should expect similar river behavior. There is still a lot of snow in the high country, Struble warned, and it could peak again.

"As long as it's high and strong, that's fine," Fry told Struble. "Just as long as it doesn't get any higher."

Nearby, water had engulfed the meadows at the Davis Krouse Ranch and made the driveway impassable. Sandbags and berms helped protect the structures at the ranch.

"We're high and dry," caretaker Yuri Goldstein said.

That was not the case to the west, where high water was again pummeling Saddle Mountain Ranch at U.S. 40 and C.R. 44. A family renting a home on the ranch evacuated Friday along with horses.

A large piece of plastic pipe three feet in diameter or larger was sticking out of a culvert going underneath U.S. 40 at the ranch.

"That used to be here," Struble said, pointing to the gushing water running through a trench intersecting the driveway at the ranch.

Farther west, Struble visited with Kent Osteen, who owns a home directly next to the Yampa River after it merges with the Elk.

"You always have an exciting day or two in the spring, but this year has been exceptional," Osteen said.

About a dozen men from Anchor Way Baptist Church came over Monday to help him fortify his house with sandbags.

"We either needed to do nothing or do a lot, so we did a lot," Osteen said.

Sandbags were the only thing keeping the river from reaching his deck and foundation. Osteen's structures were not damaged, but he and other property owners have similar concerns.

Struble said they are worried that the flooding is eroding their banks and the river is eating their land.

"I can fish from the hot tub now," Osteen said. "I don't need it any closer."

After surpassing a gauge height of 8 feet early Tuesday at the C.R. 42 bridge, the Elk is forecast to drop to about 7 feet before edging back toward 8 feet on Sunday, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service.

The Yampa River in downtown Steamboat is expected to remain close to its current Fifth Street Bridge height of 7 feet through Sunday. The river was flowing at about 4,500 cfs Tuesday afternoon, shy of its peak so far this spring of 4,780 cfs at 11:15 p.m. Monday. The record for the Yampa, according the USGS, is 6,820 cfs.

— To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

Send your flooding photos and news tips to share@steamboattoday.com, or call 970-871-4221.

Yampa River Core Trail closures

These sections of the Yampa River Core Trail were closed as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the city of Steamboat Springs:

• From Dougherty Road to River Creek Park at Walton Creek Road

• The U.S. Highway 40 underpass at Walton Creek

• From Stone Lane and Chinook Drive to the U.S. 40 underpass

• The railroad underpass upstream of Fetcher Pond

• From Fetcher Pond to Trafalgar Drive

• From Snake Island to the Ninth Street Bridge

• The 13th Street underpass

The city also reports that Emerald Park is closed because of high water.

The city asks that trail users obey all closures and do not try to cross trails with water on them. Call Craig Robinson at 970-879-4300 for more information.

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