The snow-covered slopes of Mount Werner are reflected in the pools of water at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena in downtown Steamboat Springs on Monday. City and county officials are preparing for the possibility of significant flooding this spring.

Photo by John F. Russell

The snow-covered slopes of Mount Werner are reflected in the pools of water at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena in downtown Steamboat Springs on Monday. City and county officials are preparing for the possibility of significant flooding this spring.

Routt County officials on watch for slides, floods caused by runoff

Road and bridge director says spring is like none in 20 years



Water rushes down a hill and fills a culvert near 13th Street in Steamboat Springs. Runoff from melting snow and continued wet weather are maxing out local drainages.


Rocks and heavy equipment sit on River Road just around the corner from the Brooklyn neighborhood in downtown Steamboat. The stretch of road from Brooklyn to the Tree Haus subdivision has been closed since last week while crews try to remove rocks that still pose a threat to driver safety.

River Road closed indefinitely

City officials are consulting experts on how best to handle a large boulder precariously overhanging River Road near the Tree Haus subdivision before reopening the road that some motorists use to commute from the south valley into downtown Steamboat Springs.

City Public Works Engineer Ben Beall said Monday that a soils engineer has evaluated the problem and cost estimates are being prepared for removing the boulder from the hillside.

“We realize it’s an inconvenience, but there’s an alternate route (U.S. Highway 40),” Beall said. “We’ll work as speedily as we can to get the road open, but we definitely want to be cautious.”

One alternative could be using dynamite to blast the rock, and Beall said the city would notify nearby residents before taking that step.

The large boulder remained in place April 21 after smaller rocks slid off a steep embankment the night before and into the roadway. A track hoe was used to pull a monstrous boulder off the embankment. The rock still clinging to the hillside is even larger.

In case of emergency

Residents concerned about a new after-hours flooding issue in their rural neighborhood should call Routt County Communications at 970-879-1090. Dispatchers there can reach road crews directly on their radios.

An orange road cone near a trouble spot is a sign that the Routt County Road and Bridge Department is aware of the problem.

The weather forecast calls for a chance of snow through Wednesday before the valley sees clearing on Thursday, followed by a return to rain mixed with snow Thursday night and Friday.

— Routt County officials are preparing to enter unknown territory as they contemplate a spring runoff season that has the potential to cause flooding like the valley hasn’t seen in decades.

Road crews already have been forced to deal with overwhelmed road culverts, and 15 feet of snow remains on the summit of Buffalo Pass. More than 100 inches remain on Rabbit Ears Pass.

County Road and Bridge Department Director Paul Draper said Monday that he and Emergency Management Director Bob Struble sat down last week to make plans for coming to the aid of rural residents who could potentially be cut off from road access by a mudslide or flooded roads.

“We’re talking about what to do in the case of a catastrophic slide that isolates families,” Draper said. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to respond?’”

Struble said only a very small percentage of Routt County residents could be cut off by floodwaters, but he and Draper are referring to maps to see where slides already have occurred and where people could find themselves isolated.

“We want to be sure they can get to town,” Struble said. “The Sheriff’s Office is being very vigilant on their patrols right now looking for slides.”

One option, when traditional vehicles cannot navigate a stretch of road, would be to call on Routt County Search and Rescue.

An area of particular concern is far North Routt County where Routt County Road 129 is already closed beyond Columbine to the Wyoming state line. Routt County has a reciprocal arrangement in place with Carbon County, Wyo., for mutual aid, Struble confirmed.

Draper’s crews were called out again during the weekend to keep an eye on the defunct Appel Dam about eight miles from Steamboat on Routt County Road 33 (just beyond the Twentymile Divide), where the earthen dam structure had slumped to the edge of the county road.

“I don’t remember this much snow this time of year — ever,” Draper said. “This is a different animal. We don’t think it’s over by any means.”

Struble’s office has posted the updated 2011 edition of the High Water Preparedness Guide on the county’s website. It also is available with this story at Among other things, the guide urges residents to check on elderly residents, pack a grab-and-go kit, create an evacuation plan and make plans for pets and livestock.

Crews stay on defense

Draper said he’s pleased with the way his staff has responded to the rash of minor road emergencies this month.

“They’re doing really good. We want to keep the integrity of our road systems intact if at all possible, and they understand that it’s less expensive to protect the infrastructure now than to replace it,” Draper said. “Sixty percent of my crew has been here 10 years or more.”

The 36 Road and Bridge employees have been working their base shift from 6 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and responding to calls after hours and on weekends.

“We’re responding and addressing the immediate problem, but we can’t fix anything when it’s this wet,” Draper said. “The ground has absorbed all the water it’s going to. It’s all going to run off now.”

Culverts on rural roads are built to handle 20-year floods, which can happen in any given year. It’s understood that the culverts sometimes will be inundated, and the reason the county hasn’t installed larger culverts is that it would require elevating the roads to an impractical degree.

The Road and Bridge De­­part­­ment’s annual summer plan of work calls for it to begin summer maintenance and appl­ication of the dust suppressant magnesium chloride in the second week of May. Draper already is contemplating adjusting the summer schedule.

He said that based on the advice of a wise old Routt County rancher and water developer, he’s preparing for a long spring runoff.

“When John Fetcher was alive, he told me to look at the number of inches of snow on top of the ski area on closing day and plan on 1 inch (of melt) a day. That’s how many days it’s going to take to melt this year? Are we going to have 6 feet of snow up there on July 4?”

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


Angie Robinson 6 years ago

The buildings on 13th street (in the picture) should have never been approved to be built there. Having lived here for 33 years, I know that 20 years ago when we had wetter weather, that area was ALWAYS under water in the spring. There is also a natural spring on the side of that hill. When those buildings went up, it was discussed by long time locals, that it was a very bad idea. I see building going up in wetlands more and more...and I wonder does the Army Corp of Engineers look over these project anymore? They used to. The weather has been dryer for quite a while so new residents don't realize what they're getting into, when they buy one of those buildings.


Penny Fletcher 6 years ago

lets not forget Kortas who was the reason for all of who was greedy?


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