River rises with second hot day

PHOOT BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Flooding along he Colorado River has forced the closure of lanes along Interstate 70 west of Fruita, including this overpass at mile marker 16.

The hottest day of the year thus far in the Grand Valley spurred moderate flooding along the Colorado River and lane closures along Interstate 70 west of Fruita, as snowmelt continues to rapidly drain off the mountains and fill already swollen waterways.

Monday’s high of 94 in Grand Junction, the second consecutive 90-plus day, pushed the river level and flow at Cameo in De Beque Canyon to 12.68 feet and 26,000 cubic feet per second by late afternoon. Flood stage at that area of the river is 12.5 feet and 25,350 cfs.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction predict the river could balloon to 13.5 feet by Wednesday morning. At 14 feet, much of Riverbend Park in Palisade would be flooded, officials say.

Aldis Strautins, a service hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said the above-normal temperatures could cause the river to peak this week. Grand Junction’s high is expected to drop back into the 80s today, but if another hot spell follows the cool-down, the river could reach another height.

“My concern is that there’s still a lot of snow left up there, so if we get a real warm period next week, then we could get more water in the rivers again,” Strautins said.

A flood warning for the river has been issued through Friday afternoon.

River water lapping up against the underside of a bridge prompted the Colorado Department of Transportation on Monday to close the right eastbound lane of Interstate 70 west of Fruita. That closure came one day after the state prohibited travel in the right westbound lane of I-70 in the same area.

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said the water is covering about 15 inches of the bridge’s horizontal steel support beam. She said it’s possible both westbound lanes of I-70 could close if the river continues to rise. That would force traffic to reroute onto U.S. Highway 6.

Shanks said CDOT had to close portions of I-70 in 2008 because of high water but that such action isn’t common.

Two sets of state highway crews are working 12-hour shifts, monitoring the river level 24 hours a day. Workers have a backhoe ready in case debris floating in the river threatens to damage the bridge, Shanks said.


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