Elk River is bank-full west of Steamboat Springs and may be headed for flood stage

Several inches of water surround campers in the longterm section at the Steamboat Campground in west Steamboat Springs Tuesday morning. The water from the Yampa River has come into the park the past few nights but hasn't really been an issue. The management has offered to allow these campers to move to drier areas, but the owners of the campers elected to stay where they were feeling like the water is on its way back down.

The sand man is coming

When tributaries of the Yampa River appear to be threatening property in the city of Steamboat Springs, public works crews are ready to help owners of homes and businesses help themselves.

As they did during the notable spring runoff of 2011, public works crews are prepared to deliver sand and sandbags to locations where the water is flowing close to structures this runoff season.

Streets and Fleet Superintendent Ron Berig said Tuesday his crews visit trouble spots before they deliver sand and sandbags to a site that may be threatened by flooding. To arrange a site visit, call 970-879-1807 on weekdays. On weekends, it’s necessary to call the Steamboat Springs Police Department at 970-879-1144.

Sandbags may also be purchased at Elk River Pet & Ranch for 65 cents apiece.

The High Water Preparedness Guide released by the Routt County Office of Emergency Management tells property owners what to expect when they set out to use sandbags to keep flood waters back. In order to build a levee measuring 1 foot high and 20 feet long, 7 cubic yards of sand are required to fill the necessary 100 sandbags. Expect that two people will need one hour to fill and place the 100 sandbags.

— With 20 inches of water still stacked up in the snow on Rabbit Ears Pass and forecasts of daily high temperatures pushing into the low 80s Wednesday before tapering off to the mid-70s later in the week, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has a chance to reach the bank-full stage at the Fifth Street Bridge June 4 to 5. But the current outlook does not foresee it exceeding flood stage of 7.5 feet in the next 11 days.

The Yampa was flowing harmlessly over its banks and bypassing its meanders in the vicinity of Rotary Park as of late Sunday afternoon.

The Elk River at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat is another story.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, updated its projected streamflows for the Elk Tuesday morning and reported that the river shot beyond bank-full over the holiday weekend and could nudge flood stage overnight Wednesday and Thursday before dipping just under flood stage again during the daylight hours.

A tentative forecast for the Elk, which is weather dependent, anticipates the river will go higher June 1 to 3 but continue to bounce above and below flood stage during its diurnal cycle, which sees peak flows at night.

“We’ve been flirting with it all weekend,” Routt County Emergency Preparedness Manager Bob Struble said Tuesday morning. “I know Road and Bridge is out daily checking trouble spots and Routt County Sheriff’s deputies are all keeping an eye out.”

Residents of Saddle Mountain Ranch, near the confluence of the Elk and Yampa rivers, vacated the property during runoff in the spring of 2011.

Most of the potential trouble spots Struble was referring to are road culverts that are sometimes unable to handle the runoff from creeks associated with rapid snowmelt. In 2011, for example, culverts at maximum capacity resulted in road damage in the county.

Asked if he was aware of any significant problems yet, Struble replied, “Not at all.”

His office urges motorists not to attempt to drive through areas where ditches or creeks are flowing across rural roads — the power of the water is easy to underestimate.

The Elk was flowing at 4,090 cubic feet per second at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and to put that in perspective, it peaked at 6,860 cfs on June 6, 2011. The Yampa, which was flowing at 3,360 cfs Tuesday afternoon, peaked at 5,200 on June 7, 2011.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears is 175 percent of the median for the date, and some of that snowmelt will inevitably flow down Walton Creek, which passes through the city’s southern suburbs near Whistler Park before running beneath U.S. Highway 40 and quickly into the Yampa.

Soda Creek is another tributary of the Yampa that can create minor flooding in Old Town Steamboat.

City of Steamboat Springs Public Works Department Streets and Fleet Superintendent Ron Berig said Tuesday the creeks become a problem when the Yampa gets so high it backs up its tributaries.

“We’ll see that with Walton Creek and Soda Creek,” Berig said. “Butcherknife Creek peaked in early April, but when the Yampa gets so high, it will back up and flow out onto Yampa Street.”

Walton Creek, after flowing on the western margin of Whistler Park, runs very close to homes from Stone Lane to Willow Creek Circle. But Berig said undeveloped portions of the flood plain there help to protect the homes.

“The good thing about Walton Creek is that there is a large area behind the Fairfield Inn, which can hold a lot of water,” he said

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Community comments

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(Bill Dalzell) BillyD says...

Scott, I think you would be surprised where the 100 and 500 year flood plain are. I think it is just a matter of people like water and build too close. Its been going on for years. I don't think any areas in Routt County have hit the 100 mark in the past twenty years. I was in Vermont for the floods a couple summers ago. I watched a car, a full size dumpster and a couple hundred 250 to 500 gallon propane tanks float by. I also watched a covered bridge and building get destroyed. The water was barely lapping the 100 year mark at the time.

Posted 28 May 2014, 8:57 a.m. Suggest removal

(doug monger) homey says...

Actually Bill I understand the experts say that 2011 was a 100 year event for the Elk. On the same point I don't disagree with the point that man keeps building in closer and testing the proverbial waters. Quite the fine balance trying to legislate around "stupid" and allowing private property rights. It's all great and it's my property right till a situation needs bailed out and my house is flooding and we need sandbags. One should not wonder why the pioneers built on the bluffs overlooking the river rather than on the river bottom. Oh well

Posted 28 May 2014, 4 p.m. Suggest removal

(mark hartless) markhartless says...

Tomorrow morning or friday morning is likely to be high water day for the Elk. It's not that high, actually. It has to go above 7,000 cfs to keep me awake anymore-right now it;s set for a morning peak at the Milner gauge somewhere south of 6,000cfs.<P>When Lost Dog runs out of snow the Elk has peaked. It has only about 15" left. Cooler temps will likely see it temper slightly downward by saturday if no big rains fall.<P>I believe the 2011 runoff was actually classified as the "flood of record" for the Elk, rather than as a "100 year" or "500 year" event.

Posted 28 May 2014, 7:55 p.m. Suggest removal

(John Weibel) jweibel says...

Too bad many times those in charge of enforcing rules do not even know where the line is drawn to protect that fine balance. Nor when presented with information from experts, will even consider that the interpretation of a rule was wrong.

Posted 28 May 2014, 11:05 p.m. Suggest removal

(rhys jones) highwaystar says...

I heard some trivia recited as fact once, am seeking support or rebuttal on it:

Mile for mile, the Elk River drains more water than any river in America.


Posted 29 May 2014, 11:05 a.m. Suggest removal

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