Routt County officials prepare for runoff’s big comeback |

Routt County officials prepare for runoff’s big comeback

Jeremy Karschner and his dog, Nikita, hang out on the shores of the Yampa River on Monday afternoon. The river flow in the Yampa is currently 764 cubic feet per second, which is about half of what it typically is on this date. However, the snowpack in the Yampa and White river drainages is about 97 percent of where it typically is May 18.
John F. Russell

Peak flows

A record of the date and flows in cubic feet per second when the Yampa River historically has peaked at the Fifth Street Bridge

Year / Day / Gauge height relative to flood stage / Flow (cubic feet per second)

1990 / June 8 / 5.71 / 2,430 cfs

1991 / June 7 / 6.20 / 3,140

1992 / May 27 / 5.43 / 2,340

1993 / June 17 / 6.33 / 3,280

1994 / May 17 / 5.22 / 2,140

1995 / June 16 / 6.63 / 3,720

1996 / May 17 / 6.89 / 3,930

1997 / June 3 / 7.65 / 5,310

1998 / May 21 / 5.84 / 2,780

1999 / May 30 / 6.10 / 3,070

2000 / May 29 / 6.82 / 4,620

2001 / May 16 / 5.55 / 2,830

2002 / May 30 / 4.10 / 1,290

2003 / June 1 / 7.44 / 5,190

2004 / May 10 / 4.72 / 1,950

2005 / May 24 / 6.02 / 3,210

2006 / May 23 / 6.40 / 3,850

2007 / May 18 / 5.16 / 2,520

2008 / June 4 / 6.34 / 3,850

2009 / May 20 / 5.71 / 3,060

The third column shows gage height at the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat. Flood stage is 7.5 feet.


People interested in looking five days into the future to see how the river will rise, based on computer modeling and weather forecasts can go here.

— Recent cold and wet weather has boosted the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White river drainages to near normal levels after a winter of subpar moisture, but how that affects spring flooding remains to be seen.

Rout County Director of Emergency Management Bob Struble told the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday that the potential for spring flooding will vary with temperature patterns through the balance of May and early June.

“The snow has come back to what we could almost call normal,” Struble said. “If this pattern of two or three nice days followed by a cooling down continues,” the runoff likely will be normal. “Probably the drainage that feeds Butcherknife Creek has already melted. Our issue could be Soda Creek or Walton Creek.”

Federal hydrologists told the Steamboat Today last week that the potential for a sudden spring runoff increases the longer into spring the mountains hold their high-elevation snowpack.

Historic data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the Yampa River at the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat was peaking on this date in 2007 and peaked a week earlier than this in 2004.

The latest peak in 20 years was recorded on June 16, 1995.

Although current river flows are higher than they were last week, it’s clear that runoff hasn’t begun in earnest. As of 3 p.m. Monday, the measured flow at Fifth Street was 764 cubic feet per second compared to the median for the date of 1,660 cfs.

It was Butcherknife Creek that produced the worst flooding seen in Steamboat in the modern era when unseasonably warm rains brought the snowpack down abruptly in April 1974. Residents could have kayaked down James Street that season.

Commissioner Doug Monger agreed with Struble that the usual trouble spots in Routt County bear close watching this spring. They include hotel parking lots on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 south of the city limits where Walton Creek flows close by. The rural neighborhood close to Saddle Mountain Ranch at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Routt County Road 44 west of Steamboat Springs also has seen periodic flooding from the Elk River in the past 20 years.

Struble expects to monitor those locations and others in person as spring runoff begins in earnest.

“I’ll be checking in with all the county road superintendents,” he said.

Struble’s office has prepared a thorough guide to high water preparedness. Residents also can call 970-870-5551 for more information.

While government will take responsibility for flooding issues in the public right of way — in culverts or storm drains, for example — Struble said property owners are expected to mitigate flooding on their land. Those responsibilities are spelled out in the preparedness guide.

Struble said residents can visit, click on “Emergency Management” on the left side of the homepage, and then click on the “Code Red” link to enroll in a program that will send recorded emergency telephone messages targeted to specific areas of the county, in case of flooding, for example. People can choose to have those messages routed to their cell phones or computers, Struble said.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail

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