Local flooding may be in our future | VailDaily.com

Local flooding may be in our future

Lauren Glendenninglglendenning@vaildaily.comVail, CO, Colorado
CVR Bighorn Park Work DT 5-6-11

EAGLE COUNTY – A heavy snowpack is good for just about everything from winter recreation to summer recreation to water supplies, but there’s one downside to all that water in the snow – flooding.Flooding isn’t a sure thing just because there’s a lot of snow sitting up high – it’s the runoff that determines when and if local rivers and creeks will crest. And as the days get warmer, local emergency managers are keeping a close eye on what’s going on.Barry Smith, Eagle County’s emergency manager, is already participating in weekly conference calls with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction and emergency managers all across the Western Slope and eastern Utah. They talk about forecasts and what needs to be done if emergency floods look likely.”They’re usually pretty accurate with the water forecast within a week, but beyond a week it’s pretty hit and miss,” Smith said. That means there’s no way to tell whether the upcoming flood season will produce any floods until just a few days in advance. Smith said the weather forecasters were good last year in that they could generally predict the stage in which the rivers would reach their capacities. But even with weather predictions and weekly conference calls with regional experts, it’s still mostly a waiting game.”I gave up trying to have any kind of predictions about the weather,” Smith said. “The county commissioners asked me about potential flooding this year a few weeks ago, and I said I’ll let you know in July.”Emergency managers around the county are still trying to do whatever they can to be as ready as possible when they happen, though. The county and local towns have been checking various culverts on the Colorado River, Gypsum Creek, Brush Creek and other waterways where debris can flow downstream and build up behind the culverts. “We clean those up so water will flow appropriately,” Smith said. The town of Vail began working on replacing a spillway structure Friday at Bighorn Pond. The pond flooded last spring and washed out a portion of the dam. The new spillway structure will allow more flow out of the pond during future floods, according to the town of Vail Public Works department.All of the local towns are ready to stockpile sandbags and distribute them to the public if necessary. Smith said the county also has some Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for disaster mitigation on stream channel improvements along Stone Creek through Eagle-Vail, although similar FEMA grants are no longer in the federal budget.Smith said the county’s long-term goals, as soon as funding becomes available, include improving many of its flood-prone areas like Cross Creek at Maloit Park in Minturn, Turkey Creek and the Eagle River confluence in Red Cliff.As for the short-term, Smith said the amount of water in the snowpack – which as of Friday was 11⁄2 times what it was last year – definitely raises more potential for flooding, “but you just don’t know.””Be ready to make do with what nature sends our way,” Smith said. “If you have areas of your property that are prone to flooding, be proactive.”