High water danger subsides for town

Runoff could still be troublesome elsewhere

A cold spur at the end of last week seems to have given the snowpack in the Gunnison Basin a chance to melt more slowly, which has helped reduce flows in many rivers and streams and has temporarily abated the threat of serious flooding.



However, county and municipal officials warn that forecasted high temperatures in the coming weeks could still cause water levels to rise to flood stage again.
“We’re sitting really good,” says Gunnison County emergency manager Scott Morrill of the current runoff situation. Morrill says water flows have dropped considerably for most of the Upper Gunnison Basin’s rivers and streams, and a large percentage of the snowpack has safely melted into waterways or evaporated from the heat and sunshine. But, Morrill says, as temperatures continue to rise this week and into next, so will the water level. “We’re expecting it,” he says.
Earlier this spring, government officials across Gunnison County began making preparations for possible flooding that could occur during the peak runoff time, usually seen in late May or early June. A basin-wide snowpack that exceeded 140 percent of its average water content, as well as long-range forecasted high temperatures, spurred the preparations.
The town of Crested Butte updated its emergency Flood Management Plan and hosted an informational meeting for the public on
April 9.
In Gunnison, thousands of sand bags were prepared and stored near flood-prone areas of the town.
Last week, Gunnison Valley citizens watched as river and stream levels climbed their banks as high temperatures caused fast runoff. But a cold front that entered the area mid-week and caused a devastating tornado on the Front Range brought the high water threat back down locally.
Morrill says there hasn’t been any serious damage caused by the high water so far, although a few basements were left with several inches of water in them. Morrill also says some homeowners’ yards and driveways carried some excessive water, but not enough to damage property.
Crested Butte’s waterways are also seeing less water after the cold weekend. Town manager Susan Parker says Coal Creek, which runs through downtown, dropped six inches over the course of the weekend.
Morrill says there is still a chance some areas could see high water danger if the Gunnison Valley receives high temperatures and additional snow or rain. “We could see even higher flows [than before] on the Gunnison [River] and Tomichi Creek in coming weeks,” Morrill says. Tomichi Creek runs west from Monarch Pass through Gunnison, and is also a waterway of flooding concern for that municipality.
The monthly weather outlook from the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction is calling for above-average temperatures and average precipitation in June. A weekly forecast from the National Weather Service updated on May 27 states, “as temperatures warm across the region, creeks, streams and rivers will continue to rise and run fast through the period. Additional rivers and streams are also expected to exceed [their banks] later this week as the melting of the snowpack is accelerated.”
The National Weather Service is also asking boaters and outdoor enthusiasts to use caution when recreating near a fast moving stream or river.
Morrill says a month ago officials believed there would be several alternating cold and warm spurts that would help abate flooding danger, but after meeting with the National Weather Service and Colorado River Basin Forecast Center last week he says the climate is now predicted to stay pretty consistent throughout June.
Morrill says the Gunnison River at Gunnison was originally expected to reach peak flow in mid-June, but now the forecast is calling for the peak to occur as early as June 7. “They moved the peak up quite a bit,” he says.
 Parker says even if the month is predicted to be warmer than average, nighttime temperatures staying close to freezing would help reduce flood danger.
Morrill says the good news is that enough of the snow pack has melted in the immediate Crested Butte vicinity to mostly eliminate flood danger for the town.
Morrill says properties near Crested Butte South along Lower Allen Road are probably the most at risk at this point for the Crested Butte area.
Parker says the town will continue to monitor stream flows, particularly on the Slate River due to the tremendous amount of snow still on Schofield Pass. “We know it’s going to go back up,” Parker says of flows.
For up-to date information on stream flows and flood danger, check the town of Crested Butte’s website, under the Flood Information tab, at www.crestedbutte-co.gov; or Gunnison County’s website, at www.gunnisoncounty.org, under the Emergency Management/ Preparedness tab.

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