Icicles hang down on the banks of Fish Creek on Monday afternoon. The city has made a number of improvements to area culverts to better handle spring runoff.

Photo by Scott Franz

Icicles hang down on the banks of Fish Creek on Monday afternoon. The city has made a number of improvements to area culverts to better handle spring runoff.

Spring runoff preparations underway in Steamboat Springs

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— It is too early to tell how significant the annual swelling of area creeks and rivers will be this spring in the Yampa Valley.

But preparations to mitigate any potential impacts already are underway.

Saying there was some early concern because of the heavy snowfall this year, City Manager Deb Hinsvark recently briefed the Steamboat Springs City Council on the city's progress in preparing for any potential issues from the annual spring runoff.

Some of the highlights included some infrastructure improvements that have been made since 2011 when the Yampa River spilled its banks and caused some local flooding.

Since then, the city has replaced and upsized culverts especially on 13th Street and near Butcherknife Creek.

It also plugged a culvert near the Fairfield Inn so that an existing one would better drain a field that collects water from Walton Creek.

In a related effort, the city recently acted on the recommendation of a volunteer stormwater task force when it hired a water systems manager and added a summer crew to focus on and maintain the city's stormwater infrastructure.

“I think we all learned some valuable lessons from 2011,” Ron Berig, the city's street and fleet superintendent, said Monday.

In that last high water year, Berig said the city went through 10,045 sandbags and 100 tons of sand, compared to an average year when the city may go through just a few hundred sandbags.

Efforts to mitigate any impacts of high water on the city actually starts in the fall, when staff walks local creeks and removes dams, brush piles and downed trees.

Today, the work is more focused on ensuring thousands of sandbags are on hand and culverts remain free of any major debris.

Still, it's hard to predict what could happen this spring.

“I've seen record snowfall just quietly melt away, and I've seen below average years create some flooding. It all depends on the temperature and the weather,” Berig said.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Monday that local officials will meet next month to review the educational materials his office will distribute to local residents about runoff and flooding.

In the meantime, city staff has some tips for residents to start thinking about prior to the upcoming spring runoff season.

“What I like to tell people is to resist the temptation if you live along a creek to go out there and chip at the culvert under your driveway,” Berig said. “The chunks of ice float down and fill other culverts. It's been our experience to just leave it be and only intervene if you absolutely have to.”

Debris and other household items also shouldn't be stored anywhere near a creek, Berig added.

“You'd be surprised how many times you find things like lawn chairs out in the creek near a culvert,” he said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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