High water threatens Vail Valley | SteamboatToday.com

High water threatens Vail Valley

Snowpack below normal; temperatures 15 degrees above average

Lauren Glendenning/Vail Daily

— The Vail Valley has not escaped the threat of high water — a flood warning that was set to expire Tuesday evening was extended indefinitely Tuesday afternoon.

Local streams, creeks and rivers began rising rapidly last week, causing fast-moving water to pick up debris. Some of the casualties included a pedestrian bike bridge in East Vail and an East Vail condominium complex with serious water damage. A bridge on the Cross Creek Trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area has been washed out by high waters.

There also is possible damage to the foundations of several homes in East Vail on Bighorn Road, Lupine Drive and Juniper Lane.

In Gypsum, the Eagle River reached its highest point Mon­day morning, said Bryon Law­rence, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

The river crested at 9.3 feet, and had been flowing at 7,240 cubic feet per second, according to a U.S. Geological Survey gauge there. Typical peak flow this time of year is about half that — 3,600 cubic feet per second, Lawrence said. Flood stage is 9 feet.

"Unofficially, this is the second highest flow on the Eagle River in Gypsum on record since we've had that gauge site there," he said.

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Records date back to 1947. The highest the river ever reached was 9.46 feet May 25, 1984, Lawrence said. During that flood, the river's pace was actually a bit slower than this past flood stage.

The river was down to 9.1 feet by Tuesday morning in Gypsum. The Eagle River will be high during the next several days, but it should stay within its banks except in some agricultural areas, Lawrence said.

"The worst of the flooding is coming to an end," he said.

Vail crews on alert

The warm weather is expected to continue through the middle of the week, with Eagle River levels remaining high, according to the National Weather Service.

The Vail Fire Department and town of Vail were visiting homes near Gore Creek throughout Vail on Tuesday to assess damage and identify any potential problems should the waters rise again. Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said crews also would continue to monitor flows and hope for no rain.

Homeowners at the Heather of Vail, in East Vail, were somewhat relieved Tuesday after working hard with the Vail Fire Department on Monday to build barriers around the two condominium buildings there. Gore Creek flooded in toward the buildings Sunday night, leaving a lot of debris and water damage behind.

"The water level may have been just as high (Monday night), but because we had so much sand there, we pretty much raised the shore by like 4 feet," said Mike Feichtinger, a homeowner at the Heather of Vail. "The Vail Fire Department was awesome."

Feichtinger said about 900 sandbags were placed around the property Monday and that residents are just hoping there won't be any major thunderstorms in the coming days. He said the last thing they need is rain.

There is a slight chance of rain later in the week, according to the National Weather Service.

Another Heather of Vail resident, David Dean, flew in from Indiana on Monday night after neighbors called to tell him about the flooding. He has a ground-level unit but said there wasn't much damage. Dean can remember two times since he bought the unit in 1989 when there have been floods, but this is "by far the worst," he said.

Vail Public Works crews cleaned up debris Monday night in tributaries feeding into Gore Creek. There was less debris flowing through the creeks Monday night than Sunday night, the town reported.

Runoff's long-term effects

Vail Valley temperatures have been 15 to 20 degrees higher than average during the past week, creating a rapid snowmelt that has caused flooding and water sports dangers.

Mike Gillespie, the snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado, said the snowpack levels in the Colorado River Basin as of Tuesday are 32 percent of the 30-year average — far less than what was on the ground last year around this time, he said.

"There really isn't a great deal of snow left at our measuring sites," Gillespie said. "A lot of sites have melted out completely, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them all melt out in three or four days."

Typically, the snow isn't melted out until July, he said, so this is definitely earlier than usual.

"It's never good news when we see an early melt," Gillespie said. "So much (water) runs off so early, leaving less available for later months."

The runoff is good news for reservoirs, which are filling up fast. Eagle County draws its water from the river, though, and water rights prevent the county from taking out more water just because there's more available.

"We have to have water in the river," said Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Gillespie said there's still potential for a heavy monsoon season. The 90-day forecasts are showing wetter conditions than average.