Town keeping an eye on Coal Creek for flooding potential

High water runoff should be close. Cool weather a “windfall”

By Mark Reaman and Katherine Nettles

Local lore has it that when the snow is halfway gone from a certain meadow on Mt. Emmons (lookers’ right of the bowl from town), that indicates the peak of the spring runoff. As of Wednesday, that Red Lady meadow was showing bare ground on its lower half, so the high water mark looks to be close as the snow melt continues throughout the valley.

The snow melt has created a threat of flooding in various parts of the valley for months, however cooler temperatures have kept a workable balance so far, according to local emergency personnel. Safety personnel from throughout Gunnison County have gathered regularly this spring to discuss how to handle the danger that comes with flooding after a winter that left a lot of dense snow high in the mountains. The cold spring temperatures, especially overnight, have helped to slow and regulate the snow melt and lower the threat of a big flood. 

In a report to the Crested Butte town council on Monday, the town staff shared that Coal Creek has the potential to flood. The town is monitoring the creek regularly and the report said “flooding may occur if Coal Creek carries more than 400 cfs (cubic feet per second). On May 26, the creek was flowing at 240-280 cfs.”

The town and county officials have been clear that property owners are responsible for protecting private property against flooding. “Sandbags are a great mechanism for protection efforts,” the report states. “Property owners can only protect the building and/or home, not the land around it. They also cannot sandbag the top of the bank… if you sandbag your land or the bank, this may cause the displacement of floodwaters elsewhere in town. Please note, if someone displaces floodwaters, they could be liable for damages.”

The town is also warning to keep people and dogs away from the water “as the risk of being swept away is high.”

According to Gunnison County emergency management director Scott Morrill, the colder recent weather has been a windfall. “So far, so good. We really could not have asked for better weather for runoff. It’s been just about perfect,” Morrill said in an e-mail to the Crested Butte News on Tuesday.

“According to National Weather Service and the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center there have been moderating/diminishing flows due to the cool, wet weather,” wrote Morrill. 

Slightly warmer (but still average) temperatures ahead and dryer air moving into the area over the next few days could mean another high water peak, he said.

“Based on weather models, they are thinking we could see another peak on some rivers/creeks, similar to what we saw late May /early June,” he said.

Longer term weather models for the next six to 14 days show continuing cooler temperatures and above normal moisture, much like what the area has experienced this spring and early summer so far.  

Morrill concluded that the North Fork area is likely past its peak, and flows there should begin to diminish.

For more information, Gunnison County has an updated flood information webpage. (https://www.gunnisoncounty.org/851/Flood-Info).

Take heart as we will soon shift the local lore and start measuring the height of the skunk cabbage to get an idea of how deep the snow will be in the coming winter.

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