The formation of ice dams is an annual occurrence on the Roaring Fork River and usually doesn’t create problems. But longtime Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park residents said Wednesday they haven’t seen anything quite like what formed outside their back doors Tuesday.
A sheet of ice covering the river upstream from the mobile home park broke up Tuesday afternoon, then numerous giant chunks of ice snagged along a 200-yard stretch behind Lazy Glen. The ice dam formed in a way that isn’t letting all the river water through, so it jumped the bank shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“I heard the river coming by. I was like ‘uh-oh,’” said Bo Hale, who has lived in Lazy Glen for 25 years. Spring runoff has pushed water into his backyard, but never an ice dam.
The water has swamped backyards but hasn’t reached any houses. A second small bank separates the mobile homes from the flooded area. Lazy Glen is about three miles east of Basalt on Highway 82.
The ice usually breaks up and surges downstream with water on warm days, Hale said. So it was unusual that the ice broke up Tuesday on a relatively cold day.
“The only thing that spooks me a little bit is as more and more slush and everything starts packing in, I don’t know how it will (affect) the hydraulics of these things,” Hale said. “It could be a problem for a lot of people if it backed up and broke.”
Honey Tyson, a resident of the mobile-home park for 15 years, said she suspects the river’s dynamics were altered last year when a large tree collapsed from the bank and into the channel. In the past, ice chunks washed up on dry land behind Lazy Glen and created a levee that kept the river in its channel. Now, the downed tree keeps the ice chunks in the river, where they form a dam, Tyson said.
A natural berm is high enough behind Tyson’s house that water isn’t flowing into her yard. Just one door downstream, the water is swamping Gaard Moses’ backyard.
Like Hale, Moses is uncertain what the river will do if another cold snap solidifies the ice dam. He hopes it doesn’t create a greater flood.
“I don’t want to be in the national news. It’s bad enough being in The Aspen Times,” he quipped.
While scanning the river from her deck Wednesday afternoon, Tyson noted the water level washing onto the bank was about a foot lower than Tuesday. Tyson said she called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office with her concerns about the flooding Tuesday and three deputies responded.
Longtime Deputy Jeff Lumsden’s theory is that the water is undermining the ice dam, according to Hale. Once is cuts a channel through the ice, it will relieve the flooding. Lumsden was off-duty and couldn’t be reached Wednesday.
Tyson said she is concerned that increased flooding could affect Lazy Glen residents farther downstream from where water is breaching the bank. There are 45 mobile homes along the riverside, she said.
Hale said Jay Parker, a miner and former worker for Pitkin County with expertise in explosives, should be recruited to break up the Lazy Glen ice dam.
“Back in the day, they would have thrown a stick of dynamite out there,” Hale said.
Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said ice dams typically form and break on the Roaring Fork with no problem. An elderly fly-fisherman got caught in the surge in the 1990s and was killed, Thompson recalled.
Another angler was knocked off his feet in January 2013, but he was able to make it to the bank and was uninjured. A beaver also was spotted riding down the ice floe.