Heavy rains flood Avon with mud | VailDaily.com

Heavy rains flood Avon with mud

Matt Zalaznick

Mini-mudslides, called “gully washers” by some people here in the mountains, swamped and shut down Nottingham Road just three days after dozens of residents in nearby Wildridge were driven from their homes in the wee hours of the morning by a five-acre wildfire.

The two had nothing to do with each other, but some residents, such as property manager Bill Clark, say they’re starting to feel like they’re on some ecological hit list.

“We were evacuated the other night by a fire. Between the fire and the mud, we’re paying our dues,” says Clark, who supervised the removal of about 2 inches of mud from the parking lot of the Sonnenhalde condos on Nottingham Road Tuesday morning.

Monday afternoon’s torrential downpour, described by some as the most intense cloudburst in 20 years, sent water and mud surging down the hillsides above north Avon.

On one stretch of Nottingham Road –near the Bristol Pines condos – about 6 inches of mud swept through an empty lot and almost buried the guardrail between the pavement and the bike path.

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The oozing mud shut down Nottingham Road at about 4 p.m. Tuesday burying a nearby bike path and swamping parking lots at a few nearby condominiums.

“I was in my house and I could see a river of mud,” says Heidi Johnson, who lives at the Sonnenhalde condos. “After it stopped raining, I went outside and lost my flip-flops walking through the mud.”

Johnson’s pink flip-flops weren’t found until Tuesday morning, when a front-end loader arrived to dig the mud out of the condo complex’s parking lot.

Wildridge residents were routed through Mountain Star while Nottingham Road was closed Monday and Tuesday. It was the same route residents of lower Wildridge used to evacuate when the wildfire threatened their homes Friday.

Rains over the last few days mean the long-awaited summer “monsoon” has arrived. The recurring rains have put a tiny dent in the drought that has parched much of the West and forced officials in the valley to impose heavy water restrictions and fire bans.

“Our town engineer said it’s the most rain he’s seen in the shortest amount of time in last 20 years,” says Avon Town Manager Bill Efting. “But it was very isolated. Wildridge didn’t get anywhere near the amount of rain that fell on Nottingham Road.”

Drainage systems meant to handle the water may have been slightly overwhelmed by the extraordinarily heavy rains.

“Even with good ditches and drainage, it reaches a saturation point,” Efting says. “It can only handle so much. But the good news is most of the drainage worked.”

Brian Avery, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, says the intensity of the storm was the primary cause of Monday’s spate of gully washers.

“These kinds of storms are capable of producing 1 inch of rain an hour,” Avery says. “A lot of soils can’t handle that, especially rocky soils.”

The National Weather Service had a flash flood watch for much of Western Colorado throughout the day Tuesday.

Though the dry ground should absorb rain, in some areas the ground is so dry the water can’t penetrate it, Avery says.

“There are some areas where the ground is crusted, but in most places the water should be able to absorb,” Avery says. “The more the ground becomes saturated, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

The gully washers were more of a nuisance than a threat, says Nottingham Road resident Richard Sugita.

“It’s kind of messy and dusty and it’s an inconvenience,” Sugita says. “But I don’t know if there’s much you can do about it.”

Longtime residents of Nottingham Road say Monday’s storm was extraordinary.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Fred Froelich, a part-time Avon resident. “Folks have been saying they’re dying without the rain. Now they get a little and they can’t handle it.

“What happens the next heavy rain?”

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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