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Glenwood Canyon likely to remain closed for ‘weeks’ as I-70 assessed, repaired following numerous mudslides

Crews continued Monday to assess the damage to Interstate 70 in the Glenwood Canyon. The road will be closed for days if not weeks, the governor said Monday.
Courtesy CDOT

It could be awhile before traffic once again streams through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70.

The stretch of highway could remain closed for weeks, as Colorado Department of Transportation crews work to clean up and assess the damage following several days of heavy rains and debris flows from the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

“We’re looking at a few days to weeks, and more likely getting into the weeks category,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a Monday afternoon news conference in Golden along with CDOT and other state officials.

Having driven through the canyon “hundreds of times” over the years, he called the pictures and drone video footage he’s seen of the damage from several straight days of flash flooding “shocking.”

Polis had planned to join a fly-over of the canyon Monday morning, but said that was canceled due to weather concerns across the state.

The governor noted Glenwood Canyon normally sees about 2.4 inches of rain during the entire month of July. It’s seen 4 inches in five days to close out the month.

Another flash flood watch was issued for the area Monday afternoon by the National Weather Service.

The worst slide so far

While CDOT crews had been able to keep up with the frequent mud and debris flows onto I-70 going back to late June and reopened the highway within a day or less in most cases, the amount of debris and damage dealt to the highway infrastructure over multiple days since the canyon was closed the night of July 29 will take much more time to clean up and assess, Polis and CDOT officials said.

Nearly 30 vehicles and more than 100 people were stranded in the canyon at various points, some stuck in the piles of mud and debris, when the slides occurred after a flash flood warning had been lifted earlier that evening.

“We know this closure has had a big impact on Coloradans who use this corridor on a regular basis to travel the state,” Polis said. “We are doing everything in our power to reopen it as soon as possible.”

Polis said the state has declared a state of emergency and applied for federal disaster relief assistance.

“We are taking immediate action to rebuild the damaged sections as soon as possible, but we won’t be fully aware of the extent of the damage until the debris is cleared,” Polis said.

The Monday afternoon news conference was held live at the CDOT headquarters in Golden, and was also on Zoom and webcast via Facebook Live on the governor’s Facebook page.

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew participated from Glenwood Springs, where she has been stationed to oversee the Glenwood Canyon response.

“It’s a very grave situation in Glenwood Canyon right now,” Lew said, describing extensive damage to the elevated westbound highway deck and barrier wall in several locations.

10s of millions in damage

Crews were able to clear a path for workers at the Hanging Lake Tunnel command center and the nearby Shoshone power facility, which will assist with critical operations, Lew said.

Elsewhere, multiple debris flows have clogged up the Colorado River, forcing it out of its channel and undercutting the highway structure beneath the eastbound lanes and the adjacent recreation path.

Lew displayed rock specimens from several layers deep within the geologically unique canyon that indicate the extent of the forces impacting the high canyon walls.

She said the primary focus for now is to remove the mud, rocks and trees that have piled up on the highway lanes, sometimes 10 feet or more deep, so that the damage can be assessed.

Lew hesitated to estimate how much the damage to the highway infrastructure will cost to fix, but said it’s already in the 10s of millions of dollars.

Stan Hilkey, executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said during the news conference that a dual concern is the impacts from the tons of debris pouring into the Colorado River.

“The debris in the river is diverting the river into areas where it previously didn’t flow, including up against the highway and causing more damage, or to the other side of the river where it could eventually impact the railway,” Hilkey said of the Union Pacific Railroad line that carries freight and passenger trains. The UP line has also been closed since the latest slides.

Once the interstate reopens, it is likely to be down to one lane in both directions, transportation officials said.

Northern route

In the meantime, motorists are advised to take the northern alternate route from I-70 westbound at Silverthorne via Colorado Highway 9 to U.S. 40 through Steamboat Springs and Craig, and Colorado 13 south to Rifle and back onto I-70, and vice versa for eastbound traffic.

Construction on U.S. Highway 50 between Montrose and Gunnison has also been temporarily halted, so that is now an alternate route to the south.

Local traffic and increased enforcement

Garfield County and Pitkin County local traffic is allowed to travel between Rifle and Glenwood and onto State Highway 82, but must exit at West Rifle and get back onto I-70 at the Main Rifle exit or points to the east.

“We are trying to limit any inconvenience for locals, but we also are trying to keep transient traffic off of I-70 and direct it onto the detour,” said John Lorme, CDOT director of operations and maintenance.

Through-traffic — motorists and commercial truckers without a local destination — is not allowed past Rifle on the west and Dotsero to the east.

Glenwood Springs tourism officials have been working with CDOT to better delineate highway closure maps that are available at cotrip.org to show that motorists, including visitors from points west or taking the detour from the east can get to Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Colorado State Patrol Chief Matt Packard said during the Monday news conference that extra resources have been diverted to the northern detour route and other areas that are seeing more traffic as a result.

“We do have additional troopers on all of those routes, and will keep up on staffing those areas as CDOT continues to assess the situation in Glenwood Canyon,” Packard said. “We just ask that anybody on those routes please be patient and drive extra-safe.”

Rail impacts

Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Glenwood Canyon were also impacted by mud and debris flows, shutting down both freight and passenger service through the canyon since late Thursday.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday the California Zephyr line is temporarily suspended and is not running on an alternate route, as has been the case with past closures in Colorado.

“Sometimes we will re-route through Wyoming, but UP can’t support that at this time,” Magliari said.

UP spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said Monday that about 80% of the debris has been cleared from the tracks, and that they should be able to resume rail service through Glenwood Canyon by midweek.

“Crews continued to clear debris Monday caused by last week’s mudslide through Glenwood Canyon,” she said. “Barring any additional delays caused by severe weather or unforeseen events, Union Pacific estimates the track will reopen sometime this week, perhaps by Wednesday.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Travelers stranded during second Glenwood Canyon closure Thursday night, hole up at tunnels until they could be escorted out safely

Colorado Department of Transportation crews inspect the aftermath of Thursday night’s heavy rains on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. The highway remains closed indefinitely while crews clean up the mess and remove several stranded vehicles.
CDOT photo

A heavy rainstorm and active flash flooding that caused a second closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon on Thursday night stranded several travelers who had to be rescued from the Hanging Lake Tunnels complex.

Nearly 30 motorists were stranded in or between several mudslides or found refuge in the tunnels around 9 p.m. before the second full closure of I-70 was put into place, according to a Garfield County Sheriff’s Office press release.

A highway closure earlier in the evening was lifted after a National Weather Service flash flood warning had expired, but another active storm cell quickly moved over the area, causing widespread mudslides and dangerous lightning. Colorado Highway 133 and Cottonwood Pass were both also closed for a period of time.

See this and another video below of the debris slide and flooding aftermath along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, courtesy Jim Bair:

In Glenwood Canyon, a few vehicles and their passengers were able to shelter in place within the Hanging Lake Tunnels, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Garfield County Emergency Operations was activated, Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe said, and a temporary shelter was set up at the Glenwood Recreation Center where Red Cross is prepared to handle incomers to that facility.

“The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office along with Glenwood Fire and a bus from RFTA (Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) headed into the Canyon to reach the twenty-plus individuals that were in the tunnel,” according to the release. “They followed CDOT crews as they made a path through two debris flow areas to reach the tunnel.”

Early Friday morning the bus reached the tunnel and took people back to Glenwood Springs, the release stated. “Several motorists drove their own vehicles out, following the bus to safety and shelter at the Rec Center.”

I-70 remains closed through the canyon, as there are still multiple vehicles caught in the canyon and CDOT crews are assessing the numerous mud and debris flow areas to prepare for cleanup.

“CDOT will be busy rescuing these vehicles and their occupants while cleaning up the debris flows,” the Sheriff’s release advises. “Motorists should plan on an alternative route, as this will likely be an extended closure of the I-70 corridor through Glenwood Canyon.”

The recommended alternate route for I-70 through traffic is via U.S. 40 to the north through Steamboat Springs and Craig, using the connecting routes of Colorado Highways 13, 131 and 9.

Check cotrip.org for continuous Colorado highway updates.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

UPDATE: I-70 in Glenwood Canyon reopens after safety closure

UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.

––

No sooner had Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon reopened Saturday afternoon than it was closed again at 3:30 p.m. due to the flash flood warning.

I-70 was closed for about two hours in both directions between Rifle and Dotsero after the warning was issued a short time earlier by the National Weather Service.

The warning has now been lifted.

I-70 eastbound had just been reopened around 1 p.m. Saturday following a lengthy closure Thursday night and into Saturday. Westbound lanes had been reopened early Saturday morning.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

UPDATE: I-70 reopens in both directions through Glenwood Canyon

A major debris slide partially blocks a section of the Colorado River near MM124 in Glenwood Canyon after a flash flood swept rocks and debris down the Devils Hole drainage on Thursday.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

UPDATE 1:12 p.m. Saturday, July 24: Interstate 70 is now open in both directions through Glenwood Canyon.

Original story:

The eastbound lanes remain closed due to potential structure damage underneath the eastbound lanes.

A structural assessment cannot be completed before crews can cut a channel for displaced Colorado River water to flow away from the interstate, CDOT’s Region 3 Director Mike Goolsby explained. Depending on the extent of damage, eastbound I-70 will remain closed for repairs to ensure it is safe for motorists.

“Last night, one of the debris flows that came out was in the Devil’s Hole drainage, which is basically south of the railroad tracks on the other side of the interstate,” Goolsby said. “This debris flow was quite large. It basically dammed off the river and it found the path of least resistance (next to the interstate surface) when it started to flow again.”

Burned logs float in a dammed portion of the Colorado River after a flash flood swept a major debris slide down the Devil's Hole drainage in Glenwood Canyon near MM124 bringing rocks, mud and debris into the river on Thursday.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Debris is blocking the Colorado River and is sidled up to the edge of the Interstate 70 deck in Glenwood Canyon and will need to be diverted away from I-70, which will require cutting through the debris field.

Goolsby said I-70 continues to be closed in both directions between Glenwood Springs exit 116 and Dotsero exit 133, with no estimated time of reopening due to expected heavy rainfall forecasts for Friday evening and Saturday.

While a midday alert from Garfield County warned of possible debris coming down the Colorado River, that danger has passed for now, unless additional rains bring even more significant debris down into the riverbed, Goolsby said.

“Based on what’s coming down right now, it’s coming in small pieces; it’s not going to come all at once,” he said.

Multiple debris flows occurred during Thursday’s heavy rainfall event. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a flash flood watch through midnight Saturday with monsoonal rains likely throughout the western Colorado region throughout the week.

All that and the current state of debris flows mean the one question many people have — an estimated time for reopening — is just not available, Trulove said. CDOT crews, however, continue to work around the clock where it is safe and reasonable to get traffic flowing through the canyon once again.

“One of the things that CDOT’s been doing a fantastic job on is bringing in reinforcements,” she said. “We’ve got crews that have been out there with dump trucks and several loaders and working, you know, the scenario, around the clock.”

Beware navigation apps

While CDOT is actively working with Waze, Google Maps and others to keep traffic off alternate routes that are not suitable for heavy traffic, it is still possible that people will find themselves automatically routed on roads such as Cottonwood Pass, Trulove said.

“On Cottonwood Pass, we’re really only trying to put local traffic through there,” she said. “But people are using it like the interstate, and it’s a safety situation.

“We’ve already seen several rollover accidents occur on that roadway.”

Regional travel impacts

Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposed alternate route while Interstate 70 is closed through Glenwood Canyon. Courtesy of CDOT

It’s not just the I-70 corridor feeling the effects of Glenwood Canyon’s closure — communities along the northern detour route are seeing significantly more traffic. Goolsby said some of those roads are not meant for the level of use they’re currently experiencing but that CDOT would go in to do repairs where needed.

“We will have to go out and do some additional maintenance and to take care of some of these areas that are beat up pretty bad,” he said.

Peter Baumann can be reached at pbaumann@postindependent.com or 970-384-9114. Shannon Marvel can be reached at smarvel@postindependent.com or 605-350-8355.

Interstate 70 remains closed Wednesday through Glenwood Canyon as crews clear 5 mudslides

An image from the CDOT camera Wednesday morning shows a mudslide in the westbound lanes about 0.4 miles west of the Bair Ranch rest area on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon.
Image CDOT

Interstate 70 remains closed Wednesday afternoon in both directions between the Dotsero and Glenwood Springs exits because of several mudslides Tuesday night in Glenwood Canyon.

In a 9 a.m. update, the Colorado Department of Transportation said they are clearing five mudslides and are watching the weather through Wednesday. There is no estimated time to open the interstate.

“There are three slides on eastbound I-70 at Mile Points 127.5- 128.5 as well as a westbound mudslide from MP 130.5 to Exit 129 (Bair Ranch). There is also a slide on the Bair Ranch exit off ramp from the westbound lanes,” according to the Wednesday morning update. “At this time there is a greater than 30% chance of a Flash Flood Watch or Flash Flood Warning today for the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area, so the safety closure will continue to be in place as needed in order to ensure motorists are safe.”

The interstate closed about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday when a flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service over the burn scar. A strong storm cell moved over the area from about 8 p.m. to about 10 p.m.

I-70 is also closed from the West Rifle to Canyon Creek exits further west but is open to local traffic at Exit 109, Canyon Creek. Motorists are asked to use the northern alternate route as a detour, and avoid using Highway 82 over Independence Pass.


Transportation officials are closing I-70 through Glenwood Canyon when a flash flood warning is in effect in the area because of concerns in the burn scar area from the 2020 wildfire, which burned more than 32,600 acres around the canyon.

“Doppler radar indicated thunderstorms producing heavy rain over the Grizzly Creek Fire Burn Area. The expected rainfall rate is 0.2 to 0.5 inches in 1 hour. Additional rainfall amounts of 0.2 to 0.5 inches are possible in the warned area. Flash flooding is ongoing or expected to begin shortly,” the warning stated.

The section of highway has been closed numerous times this spring and summer because of mudslides that have gone across the road and into the Colorado River.

A section of Colorado Highway 133 south of Carbondale was closed overnight after three mudslides covered the two-lane road just north of Redstone. It was reopened to one lane by Wednesday morning. Also, Independence Pass was closed for a short time Tuesday afternoon because of a mudslide.

In northern Colorado, one person died and two are missing after flooding in the Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins.

Go to cotrip.org to check for more updates around the state.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

I-70 reopens after “shallow mudslides” in Glenwood Canyon cause 4-hour closure

This image from the Colorado Department of Transportation show a “shallow mudslide” in Glenwood Canyon on Wednesday after a rainstorm moved through, closing the interstate.
Courtesy COT

Interstate 70 reopened Wednesday night in the Glenwood Canyon after a more than 4-hour closure following Wednesday afternoon rains that caused “two shallow mudslides,” the Colorado Department of Transportation said.

The road reopened just about 8 p.m. after mudslides happened near mile marker 128 inside the Grizzly Creek burn scar. They were 1 to 3 inches of very slick mud, CDOT said. The closure started about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday.

A flash flood warning was issued Wednesday afternoon, and CDOT is shutting down the interstate in Glenwood Canyon when a warning is issued for the area because of potential mud and debris slides in the burn scar. I-70 eastbound is also closed from the Rifle exit to Dotsero.

The warning expired at 5:30 p.m., but a broader flash flood watch was in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Looking ahead, drier conditions are expected to return Thursday as high pressure strengthens back over the Great Basin, according to the NWS outlook. “However, diurnal storms will persist over the higher terrain through the weekend,” it said.

UPDATE: I-70 reopening through Glenwood Canyon after threat of heavy rain passes

UPDATE Tuesday 6 p.m. — CDOT crews were in the process of reopening I-70 in Glenwood Canyon as of a little after 6 p.m. Road conditions and emergency closures will continue to be posted to cotrip.org.

UPDATE Tuesday 5:25 p.m. — The Interstate 70 safety closure continues to be in place in Glenwood Canyon, including rest areas and the recreation path, due to the continued threat of heavy rain.

“A Flash Flood Warning has expired, but current weather conditions still show potential for flash flooding in the canyon,” the Colorado Department of Transportation said in an update sent at 5:21 p.m.

A Flash Flood Watch continues into the evening. Updates will be displayed on cotrip.org while the closure is in place.

––

Interstate 70 is under another safety closure in both directions through Glenwood Canyon Tuesday afternoon, with a flash flood warning in effect.

A flood watch was issued earlier Tuesday and was upgraded to a warning shortly after 3 p.m., with heavy rains predicted above the Grizzly Creek burn scar.

The closure is in place between milemarkers 87 (Rifle) and 133 (Dotsero) eastbound, with hold points at Rifle and milemarker 109 (Canyon Creek). The westbound closure is between milemarkers 133 (Dotsero) and 116 (Glenwood Springs), according to a Colorado Department of Transportation news alert.

Local traffic is being allowed through between Rifle and the Roaring Fork Valley.

“The safety closure is in place to protect motorists from the potential of flash floods, mudslides, rockfall or other hazards that can be triggered by heavy rains at the location of Grizzly Creek burn scar area,” CDOT said in the release.

The closure will remain in place through the duration of the Flash Flood Warning, which is forecast to end at 5 p.m., CDOT said.

“If a debris flow or mudslide occurs, motorists should be aware that I-70 will be closed for a longer period of time to allow maintenance crews to clear the highway.”

In that case, motorists are advised to take the northern alternate route through Steamboat Springs via state Highways 13, 131 and 9 and U.S. 40, or they may wait out the Flash Flood Warning and safety closure.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

UPDATE: Glenwood Canyon reopened Monday evening, but Flash Flood Watch remains in effect

Monday, July 5 Flash Flood Watch area.
National Weather Service image

UPDATE 6 p.m. Monday: Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon reopened in both directions at 5:33 p.m. Monday night, but a Flash Flood Watch remains in effect until 10 p.m., according to the latest alerts.

“A Flash Flood Warning that had been effect for the Grizzly Creek burn area is now a Flash Flood Watch,” the Colorado Department of Transportation advised in a news release issued at 6:10 p.m. Monday. “There were no debris flow or mudslides during the (earlier) Flash Flood Warning. Crews are reopening eastbound and westbound lanes and will be on standby through the evening.

Updates are being posted to cotrip.org.

Rest areas and the recreation path along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon remain closed for safety reasons. The closure affects the Shoshone Power Plant and Grizzly Creek river put-ins. Also, CDOT advises that bicycles are allowed on the interstate.

A Flash Flood Warning had been issued just before 5 p.m. by the National Weather Service for the area including the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar. That closed Interstate 70 in both directions through Glenwood Canyon for less than an hour before traffic was allowed to proceed.

Another closure of Glenwood Canyon remains possible if a second Flash Flood Warning is issued.

“Motorists can either seek the northern alternate route via Steamboat Springs or they may wait out (a) Flash Flood Warning and safety closure,” CDOT said in an earlier release. “Motorists who decide to wait out the closure must wait at a location off I-70, and will not be allowed to wait on the roadway.”

If another closure occurs, only local eastbound traffic heading to Glenwood Springs or the Roaring Fork Valley would allowed through, but traffic delays should be anticipated.

The recommended detour route is to the north. Eastbound traffic should take state Highway 13 at Rifle to U.S. 40 through Craig and Steamboat Springs and back to I-70 via either state Highway 131 to Wolcott or Highway 9 to Silverthorne. The reverse route is recommended for westbound traffic.

The alternate route requires about 2.5 hours of additional travel time.

Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass are not advised for through traffic, and commercial vehicles and RVs are not allowed on those routes.

The first flood warning came less than 20 minutes after the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Watch for the area late Monday afternoon. The new watch is in now effect until 10 p.m.

“If a debris flow or mudslide occurs, motorists should be aware that I-70 will be closed for a longer period of time to allow maintenance crews to clear the highway,” CDOT advised.

Multiple mud and debris flows in Glenwood Canyon on Saturday closed I-70 overnight and into Sunday.

This is a developing story will be updated.

Crews clear I-70 after mud and debris slides in Glenwood Canyon, now open both directions

An aerial picture of one of the five debris slide areas along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon east of Hanging Lake that occurred on Saturday, July 3.
CDOT courtesy photo

Fourth of July travelers stuck on the Glenwood Springs side of Glenwood Canyon had to wait until late afternoon Sunday to head back east on Interstate 70, as highway crews worked to clear several feet of mud and debris from a series of slides that occurred Saturday afternoon.

Westbound lanes were cleared overnight Saturday with one lane reopened early Sunday morning, and a second lane opened a few hours later, while the eastbound lanes remained closed until 4 p.m.

The Glenwood Canyon bike path will likely remain closed for several more days as between 10 and 12 feet of mud covered the path in some sections, Kane Schneider, deputy maintenance director for Colorado Department of Transportation District 2, said during a mid-morning press briefing.

Crews had been busy nonstop since about 3:30 p.m. Saturday clearing mud and debris from five different slide locations within the Grizzly Creek burn scar area.

“Speed limits through the impacted areas are reduced to 40 mph in order to keep residual dust down,” CDOT said in a news release announcing the reopening of the eastbound lanes.

“Please take it slow as dust will still be present following the cleanup efforts at these locations,” CDOT advised.

Also, due to the potential for rain in the forecast Monday, the Grizzly Creek and Shoshone rest areas and the recreation path will remain closed for safety reasons.

The slides occurred around 3:15 p.m. Saturday after a flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service. The slides are farther to the east of the area where two other debris slides occurred last weekend closer to Grizzly Creek, also closing I-70 through Glenwood Canyon for several hours.

Mike Goolsby, CDOT Region 3 transportation director, said a single storm cell positioned itself over the Flat Tops above the eastern end of Glenwood Canyon, east of Hanging Lake, on an otherwise rain-free afternoon Saturday.

That was enough to trigger the slides within the more-than 30,000-acre burn scar from the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, he said, adding that there are an estimated 20 different drainages through Glenwood Canyon where a slide could occur.

About a dozen vehicles had already made it into the canyon before the closure happened, and were caught between, but not in the slide areas, Schneider said. The motorists were able to be turned around and escorted out of the canyon safely, he said.

After the slides occurred, crews worked more than 24 hours nonstop, clearing and hauling hundreds of loads of debris to stockpiles on either end of the canyon, said Lisa Schwantes, CDOT communications manager.

“There is a lower chance of precipitation today (Sunday) and anticipated higher temperatures, which will help dry out the road surfaces in the canyon,” she said.

During the closure, travelers were being diverted from I-70 at Rifle and points east of Glenwood Canyon onto the recommended northern detour route, via U.S. 40 and state Highways 13, 131 and 9 back to I-70.

Local traffic headed to Glenwood Springs or the Roaring Fork Valley from western Garfield County was being allowed through, according to CDOT.

The more lengthy closure in Glenwood Canyon may be the recreational path between the interstate and the Colorado River. Schneider said the path has about 10 to 12 feet of debris piled on top of it in places, and it will likely be closed for some time.

An aerial picture of one of the five debris slide areas along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon east of Hanging Lake that occurred on Saturday, July 3.
CDOT courtesy photo

Bob Group, program manager for CDOT’s Geohazards Division, said during the Sunday morning briefing that there’s little that can be done to mitigate for slides, which is always a potential following a major wildfire.

“The fire burned over 30,000 acres, so it’s too big an area to do any kinds of treatments to prevent slides from happening,” he said. “It’s also in a tight, narrow canyon, so there’s not a lot of area to work with to do that kind of migitation.”

Schneider said the slides this weekend and last did not impact the popular Hanging Lake area, which is now operated on a permit system. However, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Sunday that Sunday permit holders were being refunded because the area could not be accessed.

Schwantes advised that motorists traveling via I-70 through Glenwood Canyon this summer be prepared for potential closures, and to check weather forecasts and CDOT’s CoTrip.org website for any closures or other alerts that could affect their travel.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Dillon Reservoir fills to 100% capacity

Dillon Reservoir is pictured Wednesday, June 30. The reservoir has filled to 100% capacity.
Photo by Nicole Miller / nmiller@summitdaily.com

Dillon Reservoir is now 100% full, according to Denver Water, which manages the reservoir.

Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, said it’s normal for the reservoir to be full this time of year, but he noted that the reason it’s full despite an ongoing drought is because the water is carefully managed, and much less water was released from the reservoir to the Blue River than in an average year.

“This year, it’s been dryer than normal, so it did fill a little bit slower, and we released much less out of the reservoir to the Blue River than we typically would to ensure that Dillon would fill this year,” Elder said.

Elder said this was a year where the reservoir started out lower than normal and less water flowed in from the melting snowpack.

Water from Dillon Reservoir flows into the Blue River and Robert’s Tunnel, Elder said, which carries water underneath the Continental Divide, making its way to the South Platte Basin, then to Denver Water treatment plants and finally to customers along the Front Range. The Blue River brings water to Green Mountain Reservoir and eventually to the Colorado River.

Elder noted that Denver Water is bringing much less water through the Robert’s Tunnel than it typically would because of good moisture levels in the South Platte Basin, which is at 96% of normal, and water conservation by consumers on the Front Range.

“We’ve had really low demand so far this spring on the east slope side,” Elder said.

While more water is being released into the Blue River now — 184 cubic feet per second as of Wednesday afternoon compared with 100 cfs prior to Monday — it’s still not enough for rafting this year. Elder said a flow of 500 cfs is needed for rafting, but the maximum outflow this year will likely only get to about 250 cfs.

The main reason water levels are low this year is because the snowpack was below average. According to a measurement site at Copper Mountain, the 2021 snowpack peaked at 12.4 inches of snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water held in the snowpack. That’s nearly 5 inches less than the 17.3 inch median for the site over the past 30 years.

Recent rain has helped slightly but isn’t as much of a determining factor as snowpack.

“That definitely helps. It doesn’t help as much as snowpack, but it does help,” Elder said. “With that rain, we added about 573 acre feet to the reservoir over the weekend. … We had (June) 24, 25 and 26 with significant rain events.”

Dillon Reservoir holds 257,000 acre feet. Elder said the additional 573 acre feet is important but isn’t a major contribution. Compared with streams, the reservoir was able to better capitalize on rainfall due to its larger surface area.

Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder, said stream flows in Summit County overall are below normal compared with historic levels. Huse said all streams in Summit County are below normal and that Straight Creek is running much below normal — 13 cfs Wednesday near Dillon compared with an average of 55 cfs for the same date. Recent precipitation levels have been above normal, but it hasn’t made much of a difference, Huse said.

“The snowpack drives (stream flow), and although that rainfall was helpful, it didn’t help a lot,” Huse said.

In the past 30 days, the Dillon weather station has recorded 1.69 inches of precipitation — 50% above the normal 1.13 inches in the same time period. And in the past four months, precipitation is slightly above normal. Huse said that while precipitation is above normal, the difference is less than an inch, and with dry soil conditions, it doesn’t make much of a dent in the water supply.

“There’s still a big concern with water supply,” Huse said.

Huse noted that while Summit County’s drought conditions have improved, the northern half of the county is still in a severe drought.


Map from Natural Resources Conservation Service