Warm weather's got the Yampa River rising fast

City officials say not to worry, the flooding is normal and the city isn't in any danger

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— Sections of the Yampa and Elk rivers and Soda Creek are starting to look like lakes. Water is gushing over their banks into yards, fields, park areas and creeping ever closer to buildings.

Bikers will need a snorkel to pass under the railroad tracks through the submerged Howelsen Tunnel on the Yampa River Core Trail.

Only one row of barbed-wire from a fence surrounding Saddle Mountain Ranch is visible above the waterline, while the water inches closer to buildings on the property.

The ranch is especially vulnerable to flooding because it is next the meeting point of the Yampa and Elk rivers, and with the Elk forking to the ranch's west, Saddle Mountain is surrounded by waterways.

The water is washing away ditches, canals and topsoil, which ranch co-owner John McRoy said could cost thousands of dollars to replace. All the time spent harrowing fields is lost as the nutrient-rich manure flows away with the waters.

"Some people say, 'You built in that area, so you should know that it was going to flood,'" McRoy said. "We know. We just think the (Army) Corps of Engineers should do something to control the river."

Other ranches bordering the river also are in danger, but Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Jim Weber said the city in no danger.

"This has been the first winter season in the past five years with normal precipitation and snowfall, so what we are experiencing now is relatively normal," Weber said. "A lot of people that have moved here in the last three or four years are saying this is catastrophic, but this is what we normally expect to see."

The Yampa River Core Trail, built in the flood plain, is shut down by rising water every year. The trail is marked with several signs warning users of high water.

Steamboat Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson said the water is not a problem. The city built the trail knowing the land was in the flood plain. The trail has been treated with water sealant and many areas have gravity drains.

"Certainly people need to be aware of the high water," Wilson said. "It may seem 2 inches deep, but it could be deeper. People just need to make good decisions and use common sense."

Weber said the past few days have been 15 to 20 degrees warmer than average, and that has accelerated snowmelt, creating the sudden overflow. Also, while cool nights usually slow the melt, recent warm evenings have kept the snow melting consistently throughout the night, Weber said.

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