Eagle County’s flood season around the corner | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s flood season around the corner

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/ Daily file photo

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Flooding caused everything from minor erosion to major property damage throughout the valley last June, and local agencies haven’t forgotten the damage or the threat.

As warmer days become normal and the ski season comes to an end, local officials are keeping an eye on the weather. Snowpack is above average, but that doesn’t provide any insight into whether this year’s runoff will cause flooding.

“It’s never a matter of how much snowpack we’ve got, it’s how fast it melts,” said Barry Smith, with Eagle County Emergency Management.

Smith sent out an Eagle County Alert Tuesday that contained information about flooding – everything from the definitions of flash floods, flood watches and flood warnings, to tips for local citizens on how to remain safe during floods.

Smith said any time a weather watch or warning is issued locally, he sends it out as an Eagle County Alert.

Snowpack is about a 110 to 115 percent of normal right now. If the snowpack starts exceeding 130 percent, Smith said it might be time for the county and local agencies to start stocking up on more sand bags.

“Right now, I’m not real concerned about (local preparedness),” Smith said. “I think we’re adequately prepared for what’s coming our way, but if we start seeing forecasts with two weeks of temperatures in the 70s, that’ll obviously change.”

Last year, the warmer temperatures didn’t start to affect river flows until early June, when the gauge at the Avon wastewater treatment plant recorded more than 5,000 cubic feet per second around June 6-7 – normal flows around that time of year are around 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet per second.

The high waters closed recreation paths throughout the valley, and rafting, kayaking and fishing became extremely dangerous because of the amount of debris in the water.

As weather continues to warm, the public works crews at the town of Vail will begin daily water level checks at about 90 locations throughout town. Vail was one of the areas hit hardest by floods last year, when Gore Creek flooded and caused damage to private property and public infrastructure.

The floods in Vail last summer exceeded 100-year flows, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There were 58 locations in the town of Vail alone that experienced floods, with improvements to the damaged areas expected to cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million, according to a 2010 Gore Creek flood assessment report.

The town of Vail has spent $270,000 to repair some of the most critical damages, of which $96,000 has been reimbursed by insurance. The town plans to discuss funding methods for other damages this June.

Higher elevation rain that falls on top of snowpack can accelerate runoff, which is what Smith said likely happened last year. He said there were some lapses in communication between local agencies last year during floods, something the county hopes to fix this year.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re coordinated,” Smith said.

The county can make a disaster declaration to the state when local capabilities to deal with the problem are exceeded, Smith said. If the state can’t help, the disaster declaration is forwarded on to the federal government.

A meeting is planned later this month involving all local municipalities and agencies. Emergency managers throughout the Western Slope and eastern Utah are also starting to gear up for weekly, and sometimes daily, conference calls about water flows and flood conditions.

This is also the time of year when recreational enthusiasts like kayakers, rafters and fishermen start getting excited. They, too, generally want the same conditions that emergency management officials look for – a runoff season that drags out a bit.

Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards, said people are already running the river down by Glenwood Springs and in western Colorado toward the Utah border.

Glackin is already seeing a big influx of people coming into the store to check out the new gear, even though locally the river recreation doesn’t really get going until about May.

While warm days might be cause for concern in terms of river flows, Glackin said the real concern for heavy runoff comes when it stops getting really cold up high.

“We want cooler evenings in May and moisture coming down in May, but when it’s warm and dry, it tends to come down pretty quickly,” Glackin said.

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

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