Waters receding but flood worries still high

The Colorado River west of Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction was expected to crest by Friday, but with more snow and rain in the forecast for Memorial Day weekend, that prediction may not ease flooding concerns for property owners and local government officials.

The U.S. Geological Survey has predicted that floodwaters should be dropping by Memorial Day weekend for the upper Colorado River drainage area between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, with cooler temperatures and even snow hitting the high country. Flood levels reached nearly 18,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the recording station below Glenwood on Thursday; by Friday it dropped to 15,800 cfs. The median runoff averages 7,670 cfs and the record was 24,300 cfs in 1984, causing widespread flooding in farmlands and river parks.

From the U.S. Geological Survey: Graph shows current flooding data near Glenwood Springs.

(Chart: US Geological Service)

Because of current flood levels, the Colorado Department of Transportation has temporarily shut down portions of Interstate 70 near Fruita on Friday and closed the 16-mile bike path in the Glenwood Canyon until the water recedes.

The Town of Silt built its wastewater plant one foot above mapped 100-year flood levels but Betsy Suerth, the town manager, admits they are closely monitoring the Colorado River around their facility. "We don’t know if there could be some diviation from the flood maps. She also noted that the town was comparing rising water levels and water cfs flows. "We want to create a historical data base for further reference since we have already discovered some inaccuracies in the flood maps."

Suerth said she wasn’t yet concerned about the hotel (photos below) being built on the river bank. "That is supposed to be a foot above the 100-year flood stage, as well."

The first photo of the hotel under construction in Silt was taken in February, the second one on Thursday. The Colorado River level has risen dramatically.

(Photo/Leslie Robinson)

Downriver in Rifle, floodwaters have covered many of the islands that dot the Colorado River channel. A photo comparison from February and mid-May.

(Photo/Leslie Robinson)

Dan Williams, a Rifle native, said he hasn’t seen flood levels reach this high since 1984. He owns several islands in the river channel by Rifle and he said one island was already submerged and another threatened. "I’ve got my bulldozer out and I’m building up a berm to protect it, but if the river rises any further, I’m out of luck."

He predicted that before flood levels drop, the barrier that directs water currents away from the Rifle Rest Stop may disappear under water. Photos from February and Thursday below:

(Photo/Leslie Robinson)

Williams has another island that is home to nine head of elk and about a dozen deer. "Luckily, that island has a little more height and the animals should be all right. But there’s no way for them to get off; they’ll drown trying to swim the river right now."

Reservoirs near Grand Junction are filling up fast, according to Chadd Searcy, Mesa County emergency preparedness manager, and the spillovers into tributaries may cause the Colorado River to peak again later this month. Flood season isn’t over yet.