Snowpack portends flooding

The Colorado River will swell to levels not seen for three years once temperatures rise and the mountains lose their late coverings of snow that have pushed the statewide snowpack to 167 percent of normal, officials said Thursday.

Bike paths along the river through the Grand Valley, Connected Lakes State Park and other low-lying areas will likely be inundated as the river swells, Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said at the State of the Rivers meeting in the Grand Junction City Council chambers.

“We have an extra three weeks of snow accumulation than what would normally occur,” Knight said.

High waters could close down Interstate 70 to the west of Fruita as it has done in years past, most recently in 2008, Knight said.

The Colorado River Basin snowpack was 193 percent of average and the Gunnison River Basin 169 percent of average, suggesting a significant possibility of flooding, he said.

Continued cool weather will delay the runoff to and possibly after the Memorial Day weekend, extending the runoff well beyond the time that the river usually recedes back to its summer width.

“It should be a good year for Lake Powell,” which could rise 17 feet from its 2010 elevation. Likewise, Lake Mead could see a 31-foot increase in its elevation as more than 12 mlilion acre feet flow down from the Rocky Mountains, Knight said.

In the Grand Valley, though, the high water could be problematic, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

This year “could be the kind of year where we’ll be reminded of all the development that was allowed along the river that probably shouldn’t have been.”


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