Cindy Ruzicka kneels on several inches of ice that have formed on the ground of her home, which backs up to the wetlands between Honeysuckle Lane and U.S. Highway 40 in west Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Cindy Ruzicka kneels on several inches of ice that have formed on the ground of her home, which backs up to the wetlands between Honeysuckle Lane and U.S. Highway 40 in west Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat resident searches for cause of flooding

Ice damming issues build up along Yampa River west of town

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Cindy Ruzicka stands in the backyard of her home, which backs up to the wetlands between Honeysuckle Lane and U.S. Highway 40 in west Steamboat Springs. The fence she in leaning on is 6 feet tall, and the ground is covered with several inches of ground water that has frozen into a thick layer of ice.

— A west Steamboat Springs homeowner is dealing with an unexpected issue this year: winter flooding.

The cause of the flooding at Cindy Ruzicka’s home still is unclear, though some suspect it could have something to do with the lack of snow this winter allowing running water to escape from the ground and freeze into ice dams. Ruzicka, whose home backs up to the wetlands between Honeysuckle Lane and U.S. Highway 40, says a new Habitat for Humanity project next to her Riverside neighborhood home also might be contributing to the flooding.

In the dozen years that her family has lived there, Ruzicka said, they’ve never had water in their backyard. They’re also running their sump pump all day, something else she says they’ve never experienced before.

Ruzicka said she’s worried that the foundation for the Habitat development may have blocked an underground spring. She said the issue is affecting some of her neighbors, too.

“At this point, we have future concerns for the foundation of our home,” Ruzicka said. “If there’s this much water collecting now, what’s to say in a few years it won’t shift our foundation?

“We don’t want to be bad neighbors. We’re supportive of the Habitat families. This is a working-class neighborhood. We just want to make sure if there’s damage to our home, someone helps to mitigate the problem.”

City of Steamboat Springs Public Works Engineer Ben Beall, who has met with Ruzicka, said there have been ice damming issues on the west side of town. He said the city has cleaned out some culverts that have backed up as a result.

Beall said snow acts as an insulator for water, and without it, the water can flow freely. He said it freezes overnight and the process starts again the next day. The issues extend farther west.

“The (Yampa) River appears to be acting a little odd this year,” said Doug Baker, manager of the Steamboat II Metropolitan District. “The water levels are up. Steamboat Golf (Club) has some water on it.”

Baker said there are ice dams 3 to 4 feet tall along the river near the golf course.

Steamboat Powersports property manager Julie Desperes said the Riverside Plaza parking lot has experienced some flooding and icing issues on its east side. She said they hired a contractor to break up the ice and move it.

Habit for Humanity Executive Director Jody Patten wrote a letter to Ruzicka to respond to her concerns. In the letter, Patten said the project had all the required approvals, including an independent soils study, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the wetlands and a city building permit.

Patten added that during construction, there wasn’t any water coming to the surface from an underground spring.

“I want to assure you that Habitat took great care to protect the wetlands during our excavation phase this fall and implemented all of the mitigation measures required by the city,” Patten wrote.

Patten suggested that the neighborhood approach the city about doing a study to determine the wetlands’ ability to handle additional water during high runoff years, like this past spring, as well as during low snow years.

Beall said it might be too early to determine the cause of the flooding near Ruzicka’s home. He said it could take until the spring.

Ruzicka just wants to make sure her family’s home is protected.

“We just want to get people’s attention to make sure we don’t get lost in this whole process,” she said.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 8 months ago

There is so much going on with drainage this year that is not typical.

The Yampa River is running higher this winter than normal. I know an ag ditch that had water flow this winter that never gets water during the winter.

Normally, the deep snow in drainage ditches provides insulation so the minimal winter flow does not freeze and continues to drain. This winter has little enough snow that water flowing in ditches is freezing overnight. Also, there is more water flowing which is interacting with the snow, forming a slushy mix that freezes solid overnight. It may be counterintuitive, but snow is quite a good insulator of blocking penetrating cold. But ice is a bad insulator so once it becomes frozen solid then it will refreeze overnight down to the dirt and the ground remains frozen.

Since it is an exceptional year for drainage issues, I think it is too early to assign blame to recent construction. Ice dams are a fascinating phenomenon. They have blocked rivers and flooded entire towns.

I think City or County needs to look at this very seriously and figure out where the water is coming from and where it needs to go. The ice in ditches and in other drainage may remain all winter and well into the thaw. So even if we get snow then that will not solve the issue, but creates the additional threat of having spring thaw with normal drainage largely blocked by ice dams. I think this should be considered an early warning of drainage issues along the Yampa River and it should be understood before it potentially gets really bad along more of the river.

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sledneck 2 years, 8 months ago

Just wait till spring break-up. The ice jams might be whoppers if it warms up fast. The ice on the Elk River is a full 2' thick in places. Gonna be very interesting.

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Kat Kelly 2 years, 8 months ago

I am so sorry that my soon to be neighbor Cindy Ruzicka is having flooding issues.

Jody Patten called me when she was drafting the letter to Cindy. I understand that Habitat not only contacted the City and the Army Corp of Engineers to check to see if our foundation had anything to do with this issue, Habitat also contacted the company that did the foundation work and I believe hired an outside engineer to inspect the property.

I was assured me that all construction was handled correctly and could not be the cause of any flooding issues.

Growing up in Houston, I understand the dangers and concerns that flooding causes. We are looking forward to becoming a part of this neighborhood and having great neighbors like the Ruzicka's.

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