Rivers being watched closely by authorities


— Rivers in Routt County probably won't have to be closed to the public, even though they are predicted to be over peak levels this weekend.

Chuck Vale, the county's emergency services manager, said the Yampa and Elk rivers won't flood but will be full.

Summer visitors started trickling in to Steamboat Springs Friday for the Memorial Day weekend, and Vale said he's been checking river levels three times a day to see if the waterways need to be closed to protect the public.

By mid-May, county officials have usually already decided whether to close Routt County's rivers to recreational use because of high water. Vale said the last time the sheriff closed the rivers was in 1997 because of low-area flooding caused by a combination of rain and rapid snowmelt.

"We usually start to watch the height of the river when the tourists come to town for Memorial Day about the same time as the peak," Vale said.

Three areas of concern for county officials are the Yampa River through Steamboat, the Yampa through Hayden and the Elk River.

"We're not there yet, but as the river keeps going we're always concerned with safety," Undersheriff Dan Taylor said. "If it gets to that critical point we'll shut it down."

Steady rain the last two days has caused the county's two rivers to rise to within one foot of flood level. At 10 a.m. Friday, Steamboat had received 1.2 inches of rain from Thursday night's storm.

The Yampa River through Steamboat was measured Friday at 3,170 cubic feet per second, or 6.32 feet. The Elk River in north Routt County was measured at 4,040 cubic feet per second, or 6.1 feet.

Flood alarms at the measuring stations go off at seven feet and automatically alert the National Weather Service.

Creeks in Routt County don't have measuring stations, but Vale said he is concerned about Walton Creek, on the south end of Steamboat, and Soda Creek, in downtown Steamboat.

"I've had a few calls from homeowners on these two, but so far they're doing OK and I'm comfortable saying they won't flood," Vale said.

Vale said he had no concerns about flooding in other parts of the county, either. He said a bridge where the lower Elk River meets the Yampa is clear of debris, allowing the river to flow smoothly.

Vale said the information he's gathered from ranchers and meteorologists leads him to believe the rivers won't flood.

"The locals have always told me that when you see the bald spot up on Mount Werner, the rivers are about to crest because the majority of the snow has melted off," Vale said. "The National Weather Service said there shouldn't be enough moisture out of this storm to be a problem, so it looks like they'll both be right."

Vale said a high pressure system is predicted for the weekend, meaning sunny skies and warmer temperatures.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.