Eagle County rains helpful, but drought persists | VailDaily.com

Eagle County rains helpful, but drought persists

Even heavy rains can bring some relief to warm streams

The July 22 drought update map shows most of western Colorado in either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.
U.S. Drought Monitor/Special to the Daily

Recent rains have been welcome, even those that have prompted mudslides. But Eagle County, and virtually all the rest of the Western Slope, remains gripped in deep drought.

The most recent drought map, updated Thursday, shows most of the Western Slope in either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions. Most of Eagle County is still listed in the extreme category.

In contrast, virtually all of Colorado east of the Continental Divide is a no-drought zone. That part of the state is generally more arid than western Colorado.

The recent rain in the area has been welcome, and should continue for at least a while.

Erin Walter, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the region has had a “really good push” of monsoonal moisture in the past week. Thanks to a high pressure system over Texas, moist air continues to make its way into Colorado, and will for at least the next seven to 10 days, Walter said. Those systems can creating slow-moving storms with the potential for heavy rain in places.

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Avon saw just such a storm Thursday, when an afternoon storm dropped enough rain to create mudslides that closed Interstate 70 for a while.

Mud and water clog the roundabout Thursday in Avon at Avon Road and Beaver Creek Boulevard.
Lindsay L. Hardy/Special to the Daily

Fire danger is ‘moderate’

The recent rains have also dropped local fire danger.

Tracy LeClair of the Eagle River Fire Protection District wrote in an email that the most recent models show the fire danger locally can hold at “moderate.”

The rain helps build up moisture in fuels including grasses, but that will only last as long as warm, dry weather holds off.

Heavy rains like Thursday’s often come too fast to infiltrate the soil. But the mudslides didn’t affect the water systems in Avon and Edwards.

Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said that district, which provides water to the valley from East Vail to Edwards, has a diverse enough system to work around days when muddy water flows into the Eagle River.

Johnson noted that the district is accustomed to dealing with streams carrying snow runoff. Those streams carry plenty of silt downstream.

Johnson said the district has a complex system that can pull from wells and storage tanks when there’s a lot of “turbidity” — silt and mud — in the river.

In the case of Thursday’s mudslide, the district was able to shut down its drinking water treatment in Avon, and partially shut down operations at the Edwards drinking water plant until the blast of turbidity subsided.

The ability to let muddy water flow downstream is a testament to the flexibility of the district’s system, while still maintaining its top priorities of providing for domestic use and fire protection and preserving stream health. Johnson said outdoor watering is lower on that priority list.

Stream health boosted

Stream health has been closely watched so far this year. Flows are running below seasonal norms, but can get significant, if temporary, help from afternoon storms.

Johnson said a July 14 storm helped streamflow “for a few days.” Thursday’s big storm might help streamflows for five or six days, she added.

Although any rain is welcome, downpours aren’t ideal.

Walter said downpours, especially on soil hardened by wildfire, is a little like putting all that rain “on a steep parking lot.”

Still, much of that rain ends up in streams, where fish and other aquatic life welcome cooler temperatures and higher flows.

Rain also means people don’t need to put so much water on landscaping, so enjoy the moisture while it’s here, and keep the sprinklers off for a while.

A quick fire update

The Sylvan fire south of Eagle is largely under control, but it’s still dangerous in the fire zone.

White River National Forest public information officer Kelsha Anderson said officials are keeping a close eye on the roughly 6 square miles of the fire zone.

Anderson said the fire isn’t in danger of spreading right now. But, she added, there are still hot spots in heavily-timbered areas, with smoldering stumps, roots and other areas.

“We definitely don’t want people walking through there — it’s still dangerous,” Anderson said.

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