Snowpack meltdown | VailDaily.com
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Snowpack meltdown

Cliff Thompson
The flooded Edwards wetlands west of the B and B gravel pit on the North side of the Eagle river provides plenty of habitat for mosquitos. A wet spring has led to a boost in mosquito populations in the valley.
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Cool temperatures in early and mid-May, deeper than normal snowpack and hotter than normal late-May temperatures have created record flows in the Eagle River.

Flows have tripled in just a week, bringing the Eagle River at Gypsum Thursday morning to a new record peak of 4,830 cubic feet per second, or cfs – nearly 39,000 gallons a second – which is better than twice the 55-year mean. The previous high was 4,670 cfs.

“Unless it cools off, (water levels) will be right up there with the highest we’ve ever seen,” says weather watcher Frank Doll, who has been keeping weather records in Avon for 35 years.

The highest water level Doll has ever seen in Avon occurred in May 1995, he says, following the wettest April on record, when 4.76 inches of moisture fell as rain and snow.

Warmer weather may boost flows even more in some areas. The highs have been summer-like, in the 80s, and the forecast is calling for continued warm temperatures.

“The river’s huge’

Snowmelt feeds rivers and streams, and this year the snowpack in the local mountains was up to 115 percent of average.

The Colorado River below Glenwood Springs Wednesday morning was running at 14,700 cfs – nearly 40 percent higher than the mean of 9,962 cfs. The maximum flow there in the last 55 years was 24,900 cfs in 1984.

“The river’s huge,” says Darrel Bangert of Lakota Guides in Eagle-Vail, who has been running area rivers for 23 years. “What’s making this so big is it’s been so hot for so many days. We also had lots of warm spells this winter. It’s peaking hard and fast.”

Vail’s Gore Creek is roaring, too, with flows as high as 1,700 cfs. Public works crews sandbagged a low-lying portion of Rockledge Road, and will be on standby until high water subsides, said Vail spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorne. In winter the creek typically whispers along at as little as 10 cfs.

“Lake Edwards’

In Edwards, the Eagle River has spilled into the wetlands astride the river east of Brett Ranch and Lake Creek Village, creating what locals call “Lake Edwards.”

Besides being a haven for birds and other creatures, that body of water is also a prime mosquito breeding habitat. Mosquitoes are expected to appear later in the summer, when the water recedes.

The water, meanwhile, is closing in on some homes in the Edwards area, although there has been no flooding reported, says Barry Smith, Eagle County’s emergency services director.

More now, less later

If the snowpack continues to come out in a rush, however, it will leave less for mid-summer flows. Telemetric readings of snowpack by the U.S. Geological Survey show approximately 80 percent of the snowpack on Vail Mountain remains, and it’s melting swiftly. The agency’s Web site reports 66 percent of the average snowpack remains.

That concerns Bangert, whose company depends on sustained river flows for whitewater rafting.

“This is taking out the July flows,” he says. “If it cools off now, we can go into July. I’d like it to cool off and maintain the flows.”

During last year’s drought, Water Commissioner Bill McEwen of Eagle worked hard to manage scarce water supplies. This year, he says, it’s a bit different.

“It’s a night and day difference from last year,” he says. “The lack of cloudcover really accelerates the runoff.”

This year’s high flow follows last year’s drought, which seriously diminished flows in local streams. The Eagle River in Avon last year at this time was flowing at less than 750 cfs.

Think sandbags, just in case

More than 1,000 sandbags are being filled by inmates of the Eagle County Jail to hold back water from the swelling Eagle River.

In some areas of Edwards and Gypsum, the river has come close to a number of homes, and if it continues to rise, it could become threatening. Sandbags can create a temporary dike to hold back the water.

When, where and if sandbags will be needed remains to be seen, but for Eagle County Emergency Services director Barry Smith, it’s better to err on the side of caution and assume the river will rise some more.

“It all depends on what the weather does,” he says. “There’s still quite a bit of snowpack, and there’s still a lot of potential for (flooding) over the next two or three weeks. We could see a lot, or it could slow down.”

Sandbags are available free of charge at the Eagle County Road and Bridge facility west of the Eagle County Airport in Gypsum and at the Avon Public Works Facility at Swift Gulch. More than 1,000 sandbags have been filled and are ready for use, Smith says.

For more information, call 328-8538.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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