Routt County flooding begins
Roads inundated as snowmelt gives taste of what’s to come
April 19, 2011
West Acres hillside sags
City officials investigated a modest mudslide Tuesday on the north side of the Gloria Gossard Parkway that was completed in late fall on the west side of Steamboat Springs.
The slide occurred on the second and smaller of two road cuts on the north side of the unused parkway. There was a visible fracture about 40 feet up the hill, but the more immediate evidence of the slide was a slurry of thick mud that ran into the ditch but did not block the flow of water.
Danny Paul, city engineer and project manager for the road, said a meeting has been set for next week with the private civil and soil engineering firms that worked on the road. The plan is to talk about how to remediate the situation in summer.
Paul said that the hillside consists of clay soils overlaying slate and that there are a number of springs in the slide area. The water finds its way to the slate and runs down, he said.
“This is almost inevitable until some vegetative growth” takes place on the hill, Paul said. Had the heavy snowfall of the past winter held off for another season, the road cut might have been more stable, he added.
Steamboat Springs — Routt County Road and Bridge Department crews were kept hopping Tuesday as they were called to inspect numerous road culverts across the northern half of Routt County that were overwhelmed with rushing spring water that had begun to run across unpaved county roads.
The unusually heavy valley snowmelt this spring — compounded with some sustained showers Monday and Tuesday — is just the first course, County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
"This is just the start for this situation," Monger said. "Some of these situations could be resolved in two days. But as the snowmelt opens up at higher elevation, the rivers are going to be interesting."
Local weather observer Art Judson reported that 0.8 inches of rain had fallen Monday and Tuesday with an additional 0.4 inches of moisture in the form of wet snow.
The combination of rain and snowmelt threatened to flood ranch buildings along Deep Creek in the lower Elk River Valley on Tuesday afternoon.
Crews working there on Routt County Road 54 were taking the unusual step of closing the road for up to two hours to add a second culvert to the road in the midst of runoff.
Monger said the most that road crews typically can do until the low elevation runoff subsides is remove any debris clogging the upstream side of a culvert.
Water was coming down from nearby hillsides and could not get through culverts under C.R. 54 fast enough to get to Deep Creek. Water had engulfed a horse corral and surrounded homes and buildings on the Rick Myers Ranch. There was about 5 inches of water in the mudroom of one of the homes.
Myers said he has lived at the property 17 years and had never seen flooding like this so early in the spring.
"First part of May is when we get a good run, but this is very early," Myers said. "I don't remember snow being here on the (south-facing slopes) this late."
Issues reported countywide
Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said patrol deputies have been put on call and are ready to respond to incidents.
"Our deputies are out keeping an eye on things," Birch said.
Birch said he has been in contact with the fire departments and public works departments throughout the county.
"If it rains for another five days, we might have issues," he said. "When water runs across roads, some roads become dangerous. Even vehicles can be swept away, so they need to be careful."
Senior county road engineer Heather McLaughlin was keeping the commissioners apprised of the changing situation throughout the day Tuesday with email updates.
At 8:15 a.m., there was a report that a bar ditch on C.R. 129 that is known for rockslides had filled and was beginning to encroach onto the road.
Officials at Steamboat Lake State Park called just before noon to say water was running down the middle of C.R. 62 near Red Creek and pooling at the bottom.
Trull Creek was flooding C.R. 44, and there were issues on C.R. 52 near the site of an old coal mine.
The incidences of roads inundated with water around the county continued to grow into the late afternoon.
Road and Bridge field supervisor Tammie Crawford reported at 3:20 p.m. that a road bank on C.R. 41 south of Steamboat and north of Colorado Highway 131 had slid into the ditch, causing water to flow onto the road.
And another rockslide stopped both lanes of traffic on U.S. Highway 40 in the Mount Harris Canyon at about 5 p.m.
Safety concerns result
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush stressed that people should call Road and Bridge at 970-879-0831 or dispatch at 970-879-1090 in instances where water is running across or pooling on roads.
"We don't want you to drive where you don't feel comfortable," Mitsch Bush said. "We do want people to call. If you have an emergency, call 911. Routt County cannot guarantee roads will be passable, particularly in high-water season."
John Price, who has lived on C.R. 62 just below Red Creek for eight years, said it was a challenge driving the 5.5 miles from the Clark Store to his house today.
"The equipment operator cleaned out the bar ditches (Monday), and in my view that was effective," Price said. "They do a fabulous job of snow removal in winter, but in my view if they took more care in summer to set up" for spring runoff, "they wouldn't have problems of this magnitude."
Monger said most rural residents have some alternative access route to avoid flooding areas, but in the rare circumstance that someone might be cut off in a medical emergency it's possible that Routt County Search and Rescue would come to their aid.
"Our first priority is public safety and the second priority is preserving and maintaining our infrastructure," Monger said.
Reporter Matt Stensland contributed to this story.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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