Routt County residents at Mother Nature’s mercy as high water floods roads |

Routt County residents at Mother Nature’s mercy as high water floods roads

Saddle Mountain Ranch owner Brian Perkins examines his flooded property Thursday, May 4, 2023, west of Steamboat Springs. Perkins started evacuating horses from the ranch Wednesday evening and got them all to safety by Thursday morning. Flooding is expected to continue at the confluence of the Elk and Yampa rivers as spring runoff continues.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Ranch owner Brian Perkins trudged through several inches of water flowing across the driveway leading to his home at Saddle Mountain Ranch just west of Steamboat Springs on the morning of Thursday, May 4.

For several days he had watched the water around his property fill overburdened bar ditches. Wednesday night, those waters overran the drainage, quickly filled the nearby riding arenas and outbuildings and eventually made it to his front door, which he had barricaded with sandbags.

“You have an idea,” said Perkins as he stood on the flooded ground and examined a filled drainage ditch. “Getting through today is one thing — and the next few days, I expect, will be similar — but then, long-term, we have to do better than this.”

Perkins has owned the property for 14 years and was not surprised by the flooding considering the warm temperatures, combined with this year’s snowpack. He said he saw similar flooding in 2019.

David “Mo” DeMorat, emergency operations director for Routt County, said Thursday afternoon that to the best of his knowledge, the flooding was isolated to the area where Routt County Road 44 intersects with U.S. Highway 40.

“We’ll have our emergency operations center meeting in the morning at 8:30,” DeMorat said. “I should get some more reports out if there’s been any more, but the only report I’ve heard so far — which we see quite often — is at the confluence of the Elk and Yampa.”

Perkins said he got up at 4 a.m. Thursday to evacuate horses and start building berms he hoped would redirect the water. As he stood along the banks of a bar ditch, watching as the water pushed past his efforts, there was a sense of how powerless he was in comparison to Mother Nature. He said he had put sandbags around his home, but that he didn’t have the heart to go see if, or how much, water may have flooded the house.

A drainage ditch runs at capacity as water flows under, and over the driveway leading to the Saddle Mountain Ranch west of Steamboat Springs. Flood waters from the Elk River closed Routt County Road 44 Thursday, May 4, 2023, flooding the ranch and threatening other homes and structures.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

He chose to focus on the fact that he was able to get the horses he boards safely off the property to nearby ranches.

“Oh boy, we had to evacuate about 30,” Perkins said. “A bunch went yesterday, and the rest had to go this morning.”

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Perkins doesn’t expect the situation to go away anytime soon. The flood waters closed Routt County Road 44 after the waters of the Elk River escaped drainage ditches and spilled across the road into Perkins’ property. The waters also surrounded a home across RCR 44, where a hay meadow has been transformed into a shallow lake.

Flood waters make their way over Routt County Road 44 Thursday, May, 4, 2023 flowing toward already overburdened drainage ditches and Saddle Mountain Ranch.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

With the waters of the Yampa River running at more than 2,100 cubic feet per second, and the Elk River running at more than 5,000 cfs, according to the city of Steamboat Springs, many residents expect to stay on flood alert for several more days.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch through Saturday afternoon, May 6, for the Yampa River Basin of Northwest Colorado, including the main stem of the Yampa River and associated tributaries across Routt and Moffat counties. The region should be prepared for a prolonged flooding season through May and into June.

A home just off Routt County Road 44 west of Steamboat Springs was surrounded by water Thursday, May 4, 2023. Officials and residents will be on high alert the next few days as warm temperatures have shifted spring runoff into high gear.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Because of the high flows, public safety agencies are urging residents and visitors to the area to exercise extra caution around fast-moving streams and rivers, especially during runoff season, which continues to show increased signs of strengthening.

“It’s easy to be complacent around the Yampa River and our other water bodies because there is so much recreation on them,” said Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli in a news release. “This time of year, the high water and cold water temperatures pose significant risks and should never be underestimated.”

He added that those venturing into the water, including rafters, kayakers and paddleboarders, should always wear a personal flotation device and practice river safety. In addition, bridges such as the railroad bridge behind the Flour Mill, Fifth Street Bridge and the others downriver near Steamboat II and the Steamboat Golf Club, bring additional hazards and low clearance issues. When flows exceed 2,400 cfs, traveling under these bridges is not recommended. Tubing is also discouraged until the river flow drops below 700 cfs, which will take quite a while given current river volumes.

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