Damage sporadic beyond Dry Creek but flood waters remaining longer this year
City official says 'weather has saved us'
“It’s a sight to see, for sure,” Hayden area resident Conner Walton said Saturday, looking over the Yampa River north of Hayden.
Walton watched the waters escaping the banks on both sides of the Yampa River below County Road 78 northeast of Hayden.
Residents and ranchers in the middle Yampa Valley are seeing the results of the winter’s high snowpack — including more snow than usual at the lower elevations — during this heavy spring runoff with water lingering in fields and crossing some roads for weeks longer than usual.
City, county and state employees say the flooded areas along the Yampa River are high at levels similar to past strong runoff years, but the difference is the water levels are staying elevated in many areas longer this year.
“While the flooding due to higher elevation snowmelt has been more than average, it hasn’t been catastrophic,” said David “Mo” DeMorat, Routt County emergency operations director.
City of Steamboat Springs Streets Supervisor Tom Martindale said Tuesday that milder weather patterns in May have helped the city avoid flooding. Limited rain and snow in May, cooler nights, a later start to the snowmelt and a more gradual spring warm-up have been helpful.
“It made everybody a little nervous,” Martindale said. “The weather has saved us. Every day I get to feeling a little better. Now I feel like we’ve kind of caught up to the melting curve and are going to be OK.”
Martindale added that city crews still are keeping a close eye on Soda, Walton and Fish creeks, watching for trees that might uproot and block culverts and bridge openings. High runoff waters are meeting those creek banks but not over running the banks, with limited flooding problems leading to damage except for some closures on the bike path.
At the intersection of County Road 44 and U.S. Highway 40 west of Steamboat, water was running an estimated six inches over the county road and about five feet from the highway outer white line as of late Saturday morning.
The owners at Saddle Mountain Ranch equestrian center at the intersection have been dealing with water running over County Road 44 for 24 days, when one to two days is the norm, according to Sean Bailey, a ranch manager. Bailey said one caretaker home on the ranch flooded with two feet of water and will have to be completely remodeled.
Farrier Allen Booco, who has lived between the Yampa River and County Road 78 north of Hayden for 39 years, said the river has flooded its banks many times previously.
“We got a little water, but it’s been worse in the past,” Booco said. “It ain’t no big deal. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.”
Routt County resident Brian Smith, who leases land from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the western edge of Routt County for a haying operation, said the good news is he is not having to irrigate lower fields near the Yampa River currently. Yet, his haying operation is pushed out by at least a month.
“It’s a little bit delayed, but I don’t think it’s terrible,” Smith said.
Residents and officials remain somewhat wary of spring runoff damages to gravel or some asphalt roads, fences, fields, culverts and home crawl spaces. CPW and state parks employees say their infrastructure, in general, is holding up well even as the higher level of water stays around longer. Some damages may become more apparent in June as waters recede, officials say.
CPW Wildlife Technician Shane Talvacchio said he pulled out all the boards for the agricultural drains that create retention ponds at Yampa River State Wildlife Area because there is no need to artificially hold water for the waterfowl so far this year.
“It’s all open right now,” Talvacchio said. “Water is flowing completely through the property.”
With extensive water at the State Wildlife Area, Talvacchio noted that waterfowl watching is prime, assuming birders have binoculars at the ready since human access is limited by higher water. He said he has been seeing many sandhill cranes, blue heron, Canadian geese and multiple types of ducks such as teal, mallard, goldeneye and scaup.
At Elkhead Reservoir on Saturday, the spillway was roaring and slightly vibrating as light brown water rushed through, and the entire reservoir was the color of coffee with milk. Nevertheless, the campgrounds were full for the Memorial Day weekend, said Jacob Dewhirst, park manager at Yampa River and Elkhead state parks.
“We have sediment runoff every year,” Dewhirst said. “It looks that color usually until around Father’s Day. It will be longer-sustained given the runoff we have this year. I think we will see a longer-sustained fill over our spillway, but operationally everything is working as we designed it.”
The park manager said he remains concerned about increased floating debris and driftwood in Elkhead Reservoir. Staff are cleaning up beach areas and warning boaters to exercise caution.
CPW Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre said the water in Elkhead Reservoir is “slightly more turbid than in a normal year” and should remain that way a few weeks longer than usual. The reservoir water temperature is about four degrees colder than the usual 60 degrees. Eyre said the cloudy, cooler water keeps fish less active, so anglers may need to change their fishing habits. He suggested using flashier lures that make some noise since fish have a harder time seeing in cloudy water.
As far as flooding concerns for human infrastructure, Routt County Emergency Management Specialist Alyssa Ingles said residents have submitted only a handful of property damage reports and flooding observations to their office beyond the initial flooding in the Dry Creek area in Hayden. County residents are asked to help with two flooding-related surveys — including a Flood Damage Self-Assessment Survey and an Observation Survey — to help county employees keep track of areas that need assistance with flood response. Information can be submitted online at co.routt.co.us/flooding, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 970-871-8444.
Routt County officials completed 45 damage assessment reports related to the Dry Creek flooding, Ingles said, including four major, 15 minor and 26 “affected” cases coming to an estimated total of $477,000 in damages for personal property owners. Other damage includes road damage and a culvert washing out near County Road 54/52E.
“Both the Elk and Yampa rivers have been trending down, although the Elk River still has daily fluctuations into the minor flooding and action stages due to higher snowmelt rates during the warmer parts of the day,” DeMorat said. “We expect the rivers to remain as high as they are now during the forecast period, which is through Tuesday.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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