Eagle County officials are well underway with preparations for possible spring flooding | VailDaily.com

Eagle County officials are well underway with preparations for possible spring flooding

How quickly snow melts depends on temperature, other factors

The last time local snowpack was this high was in 2019. That year, crews from Red Cliff to Gypsum filled and placed sandbags to keep streams from spilling over their banks.
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Here’s a look at snowpack readings as of April 10:
  • Vail Mountain: 21.8 inches of snow water equivalent, 114% of normal.
  • Copper Mountain: The closest measurement site to the top of Vail Pass showed 15.5 inches of snow water equivalent, 102% of normal.
  • Fremont Pass: The closest site to the Eagle River’s headwaters showed 14.8 inches of snow water equivalent, 88% of normal.
  • Source: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

With cloudy and/or cool conditions in the forecast, it may seem a bit too early to write about the valley’s potential for flooding. Think again.

Slopes in the higher elevations of the Eagle River Valley are well-covered with snow. How quickly that snow melts depends on a number of factors including heat, wind and sometimes, the presence of wind-blown dust on the snow, which accelerates the melt.

With a relatively cool, relatively moist spring so far, Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak said he hasn’t seen much of a rise in Gore Creek. But, he added, preparations for runoff season are in full swing.

Novak said the town is reviewing its flood plans and evaluating historic problem areas.

For those who would respond to any incident, Novak said Vail firefighters are making sure their gear’s ready. In addition, people are preparing for swift water rescue operations. The problem right now, Novak said, is that swift water training requires swift water in streams. That isn’t happening right now.

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Novak added that town officials are working on communication plans and reminding residents of the need for basic preparedness.

That can include sandbags to stop water from flowing too far out of its banks.

In unincorporated Eagle County, Emergency Management Director Birch Barron said there’s plenty of sand available at sites in Gypsum and El Jebel, but the bags haven’t yet been delivered.

But, Barron said, county officials are also working on communications with those who live near rivers and creeks that will be rising soon.

Barron said county officials are working now to get as much information as possible gathered on the ECEmergency.org website.

At the operational level, Barron said a regional group has set up calls every other week with the National Weather Service. Those calls can be more frequent depending on conditions.

“It gives us in public safety a heads-up,” Barron said.

Like Vail, the rest of Eagle County isn’t in imminent danger of flooding. “We’re not in a place where we’re concerned about today or this week,” Barron said.

While the snow water equivalent snowpack throughout the Colorado River basin — of which the Eagle River is a part — is above normal in most places, it’s not at record levels.

“We’re kind of comparable to 2019, when we saw flooding,” Barron said. But, he added, there have been years with lower snowpack that have also seen flooding.

Barron said those who live in floodplains need to be preparing now for the higher water a warm spell might bring.

One part of preparedness is following streamflow information. Barron noted there are many sources for that data. But the National Weather Service is publishing streamflow data that includes both the current water depth and the depth of the flood stage.

For instance, the April 12 data from the Colorado River near Dotsero noted that the current depth was 3.21 feet and the flood stage is 12 feet.

Insurance is another part of flood preparedness. If you live in a federally-designated floodplain, your mortgage company may already require flood insurance. But it’s important to check, Barron said. And, particularly in the case of federal flood insurance, there’s a waiting period between when a client starts a policy and files a claim.

“It’s (also) really important that people understand what their insurance covers,” Barron said.

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