Peak water coming soon to a creek near you
First the good news: the ten-day weather outlook is calling for nice, warm weather in the valley. Now for the bad news: the ten-day weather outlook is calling for nice, warm weather in the valley.
There isn’t any panic but there is some cautious awareness as the forecast is calling for temperatures in the 70s in the valley over the next couple of weeks and that means snowmelt. Snowmelt in a big snow year like this one means there is the potential of high water coming fast and even some flooding.
“I don’t expect any major issues in Gunnison County but potential problems are there. The downside is there is still some huge snow up high,” explained Gunnison County Emergency Manager Scott Morrill. “Right now it depends on the weather. The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center is predicting peak flow between June 5 and June 14. But beyond that, we can’t predict much more. There are a lot of variables. It will be nice to get this behind us.
“Basin-wide, we are actually looking okay compared to some other years but there’s a lot of snow still up high. It has stuck up above 9,000 feet,” he continued. “There is still 95 inches of snow with high water content in places like Schofield Park.”
Morrill says he monitors the snowpack with the help of private property owners in the area. He is also asking area law enforcement to keep an eye on the local tributaries and identify tree snags that are building and any other obstructions in the waterways. He is asking members of the public to call the sheriff’s office if they see trees starting to block local rivers.
As usual, there is concern about the East River flooding in Almont “but that’s an annual thing,” Morrill said. “Overall the small tributaries are heating up but don’t have the carrying capacity the Gunnison does.
“Ideally, it is best for the weather to do what its been doing which is warming up in the days and cooling off at night,” he said. “In 2008, people predicted water outside the 100 year flood plain and we got incredibly lucky. Serious is relative here. Here, serious is houses getting wet and back east its houses floating down the river.”
Given its location, some of the first houses that could get wet would be in Crested Butte, which sits at 8,800 feet.
“We are sitting on a lot of snow in the basin,” said Bob Gillie of the town of Crested Butte. “We’ve had some big years in the past but this could be bigger than most. For us, it all depends on the weather from here on out. If it gets hot and stays hot, it could come fast.”
For the town of Crested Butte, Coal Creek always rises the first few weeks of June. The major problem in the past has been debris build-up. “We are keeping an eye on the creek and we have already been fighting debris,” Gillie said. “We’ve had to take out a few trees from the creek. We don’t want any jams in there.”
If trees or boulders block the creek, the water has to go somewhere and over the banks is the most likely place. “Debris buildup causes a lot of problems,” said Morrill. “It erodes the banks and puts the water over the banks. That’s the big problem around here.”
“The worst case scenario is if we get rain on top of the heat and high runoff,” said Gillie. “We’ve never really had to deal with that when there has been that much snow up there.”
Morrill agreed. “Everyone is holding their breath that we don’t get rain on top of the snow,” he said.
The forecast is not calling for precipitation any time soon but temperatures in Crested Butte are expected to be in the 60s and even 70s into the weekend. Good news, bad news.