Flood prep under way in Basalt as rivers rise | VailDaily.com

Flood prep under way in Basalt as rivers rise

Janet Urquhart and Scott Condon
Aspen Correspondents
Vail, CO Colorad

BASALT, Colorado – Crews were put on standby Tuesday to place sandbags along the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers in Basalt, and law enforcement agencies prepared plans to evacuate two mobile home parks in case waters in the already swollen rivers continued to rise.

“Right now we’re at heightened alert. We’re not freaking out, but we’re on heightened alert,” said Pat Bingham, a public information officer with an emergency response team comprising officials from Pitkin County, Basalt, Aspen and the Basalt Fire Department.

The emergency responders determined no action was necessary Tuesday, but they started drawing up plans just in case.

“I am really shocked. I thought this would be one year we didn’t have to worry [about high streamflows]”, said Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux. The snowpack was below average in the area, he noted, but sudden warm temperatures are melting the remaining snow in a hurry.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it would make additional releases into the lower Fryingpan River from Ruedi Reservoir, east of Basalt, on Tuesday, after bumping up flows by 100 cubic feet per second on Monday.

Flows in the river were expected to hit 650 cfs Tuesday, but the bureau re-evaluated its need to move water and said it would hold the release from the reservoir to 600 cfs. That is “great news” because it keeps the Roaring Fork River more manageable as well, Bingham said.

With the contribution of flows out of the Rocky Fork, a tributary to the Fryingpan below the dam, the bureau estimated flows of about 640 cfs coming down the Fryingpan.

Flows coming into the reservoir were topping 1,060 cfs, the bureau reported, prompting the need to increase its release out of the lake.

Pitkin County Manager Hilary Fletcher said the county government was told flows below the dam could increase to 800 cfs in the near future.

“It’s going to be interesting,” she said.

In Basalt, crews are prepared to sandbag in the vicinity of the confluence of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers and to protect the two mobile home parks adjacent to the Roaring Fork, she said. The Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park as well as the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park are in the heart of town.

The Roaring Fork, which rose swiftly in recent days as a heat wave chewed through the remaining high-country snowpack, will likely see yet another spike, Fletcher told county commissioners Tuesday in Aspen.

Twin Lakes Reservoir on the far side of Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, is filling rapidly. Diversions from the upper Roaring Fork drainage to that side of the Continental Divide will cease, and water managers expect the Roaring Fork to rise by another 600 cfs by Saturday as a result, she said.

The Crystal River, south of Carbondale, is also raging, and crews placed sandbags along its shore early Monday in a section between Redstone and the town’s fire station, she said.

The snowpack was not expected to produce flooding danger this year, according to Fletcher, but an August-like spike in temperatures last weekend triggered rapid runoff around the state.

Monday was another hot day in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, but clouds moved in Tuesday afternoon. The temperature in Aspen was 69 degrees at 2:45 p.m. – it was closer to 80 degrees on Monday; the high was 84 degrees on Sunday.

“It’s unbelievable right now,” Fletcher said of the valley’s riverways. “If you haven’t taken a drive along the rivers right now, it’s just amazing.”

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