Rivers’ peak still could come | SteamboatToday.com

Rivers’ peak still could come

Flood watch in effect for Elk and Yampa as snowmelt slows

The National Weather Service imposed a flood warning for the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. However, local officials were reporting no problems at midday and didn't think the showers that fell Tuesday were enough to exacerbate the situation.

— The rain showers that fell on the rivers of Northwest Colorado on Tuesday afternoon weren’t a factor in pushing the rivers over their banks. But the sullen skies were enough to keep a flood warning in place on the Elk and Yampa.

“The rain has actually been a good thing for ranchers,” Chuck Vale said. “Depending upon what rain gauge you looked at, we got one-tenth to two-tenths of an inch. It’s not enough to affect the rivers.”

Vale is Routt County’s emergency management director. He consulted with meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction this week and they mutually decided to leave the flood warning in place until the weather pattern changes.

The Elk River was above its 7-foot flood stage overnight Tuesday into Wednesday at the confluence with the Yampa. But the Elk peaked at a lower level than it had the night before.

The cool weather that accompanied the rain showers worked to slow the pace of snowmelt in the mountains that feed the Elk and Yampa rivers, leaving Vale uncertain whether the rivers have peaked for this season. The U.S. Geological Service had issued a preliminary forecast that the rivers would peak June 1 and 2, he said, but casual observation suggests “maybe not.”

“I’m going to ask for a more precise opinion on that today,” Vale said. “I was just out cruising around and looking at the mountain. We’re close, but I still see a lot of snow up there.”

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A big toothpick

Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance said she is aware that some ranchers in the valley are worried the rising waters may threaten to erode soil from around their concrete irrigation headgates along the rivers.

“Those are expensive to repair,” she said.

Vale said he was not aware of any problems with flooding, roads or culverts in Routt County on Wednesday.

“Everything is just doing fine in the county,” he said.

However, Vale sees ominous signs in the forests that bracket the watersheds of the Elk and Yampa. The thousands of trees being killed by the ongoing bark beetle epidemic will inevitably increase the number of snags carried downstream in future flood seasons, Vale said. Such snags, which are so difficult to remove from the river, become lodged against road bridges and cause the most damage, Vale said.

Floating debris that piles up against bridges backs up the water even further and leads to damaging erosion.

“As long as the debris keeps flowing, we’re OK,” he said. “But we have all these dead trees in Northwest Colorado. I was watching the Elk yesterday and saw a log 2 1/2 feet in diameter float by. It was just zinging by. It looked like a toothpick out there.”

– To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com