Yampa River crests at 7-year high in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa River crests at 7-year high in Steamboat

Elk River expected to peak this morning above flood stage

Zach Fridell

The Yampa River had nearly filled the Howelsen Tunnel on the Yampa River Core Trail to its 7-foot ceiling Monday. Jeff Nelson, of the city of Steamboat Springs, said pumps in the tunnel's internal drain system, plus an external pump he'd just bought online, were working to keep up with the water.
Tom Ross

— The Yampa River crested at 6.5 feet in downtown Steamboat Springs on Sunday, its highest level in seven years.

The river dropped slightly Monday morning to just above 6 feet at the Fifth Street Bridge measuring site, but water levels were expected to rise again Monday night to 6.2 feet.

Bryon Lawrence, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office, said the river peaked last year at 5.71 feet, and at 6.34 feet in 2008. The last time the river surpassed this year's crest was when it hit 7.44 feet in 2003, nearing the flood stage of 7.5 feet.

Lawrence said the "bankfull" designation of 6.5 feet is an average of the several miles of river near the gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The river has spilled its banks in several areas of its town stretch, forcing closure of sections of the Yampa River Core Trail. Those closed sections include the 13th Street underpass, the railroad underpass upstream of Fetcher Pond, the Howelsen Hill tunnel near the Ninth Street pedestrian bridge and the U.S. Highway 40 underpass at Walton Creek Road.

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While the Yampa appears on its way down, the Elk River isn't expected to peak until this morning. The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory for the Elk River until tonight.

The river was running at 7.5 feet Monday morning, as measured near the bridge at Routt County Road 42 near Steamboat II. On Sunday night the river reached 7.75 feet, well above the bankfull stage of 6.5 feet and higher than the flood stage of 7 feet.

Lawrence said the Elk River is expected to crest this morning at about 8 feet.

The bulk of the runoff and resulting high water is from rapid snowmelt in the Elkhead mountains.

Emergency management

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said he surveyed areas of the county typically threatened by the Elk River's overflow and found no property damage Monday.

"The river definitely came up over the weekend," he said. "What we're seeing is normal high waters in areas where it always gets high."

Struble said there is no plan in place to take action against rising water levels.

"A lot of that irrigated farmland is wet, but that's a good thing for the ranchers. The homes are all dry," he said.

He said the water is noticeably higher than last year but not out of the ordinary.

"This is a normal runoff, it just came fast," he said.

The National Weather Ser­vice warns folks against driving through flooded areas. As little as 2 feet of water can carry away many vehicles. Residents also should be particularly cautious when walking near waterways and unstable riverbanks.

Dog danger

The high water also poses a danger to dogs, and at least one local dog drowned in fast-flowing Spring Creek, Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter manager Molly Waters said Monday.

A healthy 2-year-old golden retriever drowned Sunday while playing with another dog. The 90-pound retriever reportedly got trapped in an eddy and couldn't get out.

Dr. Michael Gotchey, of Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, said dogs drown every year in the high water, even if they are used to swimming.

"The best thing is to keep them out of that kind of water, for many reasons, but especially if they get in there and they are a young dog" they won't know how to get out, he said.

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