Weather events adding to surprisingly high flows

Large logs and debris float down the channel of the Colorado River as the high water laps the banks near the Blue Heron boat launch. According to the National Weather Service, the river is running near its banks at Cameo and downstream through Grand Junction.



Rainstorms and higher-than-expected temperatures have led to unanticipated flooding in western Colorado and forced the reining in of reservoir releases to benefit endangered fish.

A flood warning was extended Tuesday for the Eagle River below Gypsum in Eagle County, where high waters caused damage in Vail in recent days.  A flood advisory continued Tuesday for the Crystal River above Redstone, where out-of-bank flows have occurred.

Meanwhile, the Colorado River District shut down its releases from Wolford Mountain Reservoir this week for endangered fish, but it still had to spill some water Tuesday because of heavy inflows, said Michelle Garrison, water resources specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

At the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had to increase releases Tuesday from Ruedi Reservoir, not to help fish but to cope with high inflows.

The National Weather Service last week said the coming heat wave was likely to cause runoff from area snowmelt to peak early this week, but probably not cause flooding. But it got hotter than was forecast and it rained in the mountains.

“When you get rainstorms on snow … then your snowmelt comes off really fast,” Garrison said.

Eagle County emergency manager Barry Smith said temperatures fortunately were 15 degrees lower Tuesday afternoon than 24 hours earlier.

High waters led to damage at some condominiums and homes in Vail in recent days and caused a tree to strike and destroy a pedestrian bridge.

“It’s always a matter of how fast the snow melts, not how much you’ve got, that creates seasonal flooding,” Smith said.

Eagle County’s flooding isn’t associated with the releases coordinated by multiple agencies to benefit endangered fish on the Colorado River. None of this year’s participating reservoirs are upstream of the flooded areas there.

Garrison said high flows help clean spawning areas and are thought to help trigger spawning by lowering water temperatures. Another benefit of this year’s unexpectedly high flows is they filled backwater nursery habitats.

“I think the biologists from the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service think that this is a very healthy thing,” she said.

She said the Colorado River at Cameo was expected to peak Tuesday evening at around 24,650 cubic feet per second, or 12.3 feet in depth, 0.2 feet below flood stage.


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