Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@cmnm.org

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June 7, 2010
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Floods put Vail Valley on high alert

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - High waters in the valley's creeks, streams and rivers are causing problems for area homeowners, town governments and athletes, and there doesn't seem to be any respite until at least tonight.

Warm temperatures in recent days have caused a rapid snowmelt that is shattering records for local river and stream flow averages. The gauge at the Avon wastewater treatment plant has recorded more than 5,000 cubic feet per second in the last two days, when this time of year usually has flows around 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet per second.

"It's way high," said Melissa Macdonald, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

An Aspen man was killed after his raft flipped on the Eagle River in Dowd Junction Saturday. The raging waters also caused the Vail Valley Foundation to cancel all of the water events at the Teva Mountain Games on Sunday.

Gore Creek's waters caused damage in East Vail Sunday and Monday. A large tree struck the bicycle pedestrian bridge at Aspen Court, just east of the Vail Golf Course. The bridge is a total loss, according to a town of Vail statement issued Monday.

Impacts ranging from minor erosion to substantial property damage were reported in the towns of Vail, Avon, Minturn and Gypsum as of Monday afternoon.

Thirty-eight town of Vail employees worked with 12 volunteers from Vail Mountain Rescue, the Salvation Army and the Vail Community Emergency Response Team Sunday to clear log debris and make sand bags to protect homes. Heather of Vail, a condominium complex in East Vail, got hit with high waters Sunday evening, keeping homeowners and Vail Firefighters busy late into the night.

Mike Feichtinger and Kristi Allio were at the Vail Valley Medical Center visiting a friend when a neighbor called and told them they should come home.

"By 6 p.m., there was water flowing all through here," Feichtinger said.

The condominiums are located right on the creek, which flows around the perimeter of the complex.

"We call it the island," Allio said. "It's the only island in Vail."

The river was diverted when the complex was built to make room for development. The high waters are the worst Allio said she's seen in the six years they've lived there, but it's not so bad that she wants to move.

"But it does make me worry a little about the resale value," Allio said.

Michael Murphy, who lives in the other of the two Heather buildings, said the water is the highest he's seen in the 25 years he's lived there. He said thanks for the help from all of the neighbors and the Vail Firefighters, but he wasn't too worried about the flooding.

"Everyone is working together," Murphy said.

Cathy Cifelli, Murphy's neighbor, said the water level went up faster than she could have imagined.

"It was like a tidal wave," Cifelli said.

Cifelli said there were about 45 Vail Firefighters who helped the homeowners protect the buildings on Sunday. She said without their help she's afraid both buildings would have been completely flooded.

"They worked so hard," Cifelli said.

Things were looking better Monday afternoon, but residents knew they weren't out of the water yet. Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said they were expecting even higher waters Monday night, probably around 9 p.m.

The Fire Department was preparing Monday by making another 2,000 to 3,000 sandbags, as well as reinforcing the sandbags crews placed around properties on Sunday night.

"We're gearing up for more of the same," Miller said Monday afternoon.

On the opposite side of the valley, Mike Crabtree of Eagle was watching two willow trees near his property. The trees have acted as a good safeguard for his property, but they're looking like they might come down because of the high flows. He said he's not worried about his main house - which has been there since 1870, he thinks - but more about his deck.

"It's about 5 to 6 inches higher than it's ever been," Crabtree said.

Eagle County waterways are flowing high and fast, but the objects they're carrying in those flows are presenting even more dangers. There were huge logs, branches and rocks flowing through the Gore Creek in Vail Sunday and Monday, and more high waters through today mean the objects will keep on flowing.

The dangers didn't deter some kayakers in Vail Monday - Matthew Slevin, Jaime Clark and Brandon Levy were enjoying every minute of Gore Creek's velocity in the afternoon. The town of Vail warned against kayaking, fishing or rafting Monday because of the amount of debris in the river.

For people who just can't stay away from the action, Darryl Bangert, of Sage Outdoor Adventures in Vail, said rafters and kayakers need to take serious precautions.

Rafters should go with at least two boats, or with other kayakers, and run the river really close together. Bangert said it's really important to scout the river from river-level if rafters or kayakers are unfamiliar with high flows.

"You need to know the rules change and have to be aware of that change," Bangert said. "Eight feet is unbelievably fun, but there are unbelievable penalty points. It's a great time to play, just be careful."

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has its work cut out for it when the river flows this fast and this high. The Water District measures how dirty the water is and has to bring that water to the same cleanliness no matter how dirty it is.

Water operators have to be on their game and adjust treatment processes to maintain the finished water cleanliness levels, said Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

"Staff has to think through these problems," Johnson said. "Our guys have to adapt to the source water being different throughout the year. It keeps them in problem-solving mode because the water always has to meet those federal (Environmental Protection Agency) standards."

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District also uses wells in East Vail and the Edwards area for tap water, so the wells are not impacted from high flows.

The high streamflows or heavy rains can also cause water to enter the sewer system, meaning the wastewater facilities treat a higher flow volume than normal, according to a memo to the Vail Daily Monday from Johnson and Sarah Fleury, a conservation officer with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

The Avon Wastewater Treatment Plant had a large increase in flows over the weekend, according to the memo.

While Avon and Gore Creek streamflows tend to peak around this time of year normally, this year is breaking records. The gauge readings for the local rivers and streams have even been malfunctioning because of the high waters, Johnson said.

Preliminary data shows the Eagle River gauge at Avon at 257 percent higher than the average annual cubic feet per second as of June 6, according to the memo.

The high waters aren't reason for celebration for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, either. The district takes in and treats the same amount of water no matter how much there is available. Johnson said the early runoff could become a concern later in the summer if there isn't enough rain.

"We have to have water in the river," Johnson said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 7, 2010 08:41PM Published Jun 7, 2010 08:38PM Copyright 2010 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.