High waters should start receding today

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— The horses on Snake Island have been moved to higher ground, bicyclists on the Yampa River Core Trail are battling river currents in many spots and a few homes and businesses are trying to prevent water from escaping the swollen banks of area creeks and rivers.

But this year's water levels in Routt County are normal compared to past years, according to the county's emergency services manager, Chuck Vale.

"We're not losing homes, they're not floating down the river. It's not a flood as most people define it, but it's an inconvenience," Vale said.

The National Weather Service predicted that Tuesday night's levels would be higher than Monday, Vale said. Tuesday was supposed to be the peak, though, and levels should start decreasing today.

Monday evening, emergency crews placed sandbags at a few homes near Aspen and Ninth streets that were threatened by the rising waters of Soda Creek.

Also Monday night, a cottonwood tree got caught in the bridge abutment at the KOA campground on the west end of Steamboat Springs, causing the Yampa River to back up and flood that area.

KOA owner Turid Sabia said about 150 sandbags have been placed in the area to protect campsites from flooding and workers were still trying to dislodge the tree at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

"If it hadn't been for the tree, we would have been fine," Sabia said. "We haven't gotten the tree off the bridge yet. We're still fighting that with a front-end loader, but it's hard to get to the tree to get a hook on there."

Sabia said about one-quarter of the campsites are occupied now that Memorial Day vacationers have left.

At the Holiday Inn, Walton Creek swelled over its banks and poured about a foot of water into the parking lot. Vale said foundations are constructed a minimum of 12 inches above the flood plain, so there shouldn't be any water in the buildings.

The rising water at Holiday Inn was "no big deal" to general manager Larry Wheeler, although he is staying in touch with emergency officials.

"It's really not very bad. It's the annual spring runoff thing. As the water rises we alert our guests to move their cars from the low spots. It's kind of distracting, but not a problem," Wheeler said.

Water had not come inside the building during the day Tuesday, and at about three-fourths occupancy, Wheeler said it hasn't disrupted guests.

"I guess if it needed to come, this was a good time," he said.

Vale said Fish Creek "has a lot of water, but is holding its own."

Vale has no concerns about Hayden, Oak Creek or Yampa, but he expected high water on the lower Elk River to peak Tuesday night. The Elk was measured at 6.7 feet Tuesday morning and was predicted to hit 7 feet Tuesday night.

The Yampa River through Steamboat was measured Friday at 6.32 feet and had surged to 6.75 feet by Tuesday. Flood alarms at the measuring stations go off at 7 feet and automatically call the National Weather Service.

Jerry Smith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said rapid snowmelt from recent high temperatures led to the rising water. The Elk and the Yampa rivers were forecast to hit flood stage at midnight, but should come down today.

"Cooler temperatures in the middle of the week should help slow the snowmelt, and there's no rain in the forecast," Smith said.

To reach Michelle Bales call 871-4208 or e-mail mbales@amigo.net

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