Runoff causing extra Vapor Caves flooding
June 11, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Record-high runoff levels have pushed more hot water than usual back into the caves at the Glenwood Springs Vapor Caves spa, prompting a temporary closure of the caves until the waters subside.
“We always get a couple of inches of water on the floor of the caves every year when the water levels rise with the melting snowpack,” Vapor Caves General Manager Ann Hoban said. “But this year we have more than usual.”
The caves were flooded with as much as a foot of water earlier this week, and remained closed to spa visitors on Friday.
“That water is 125 degrees, so you don’t want to be wading in it,” Hoban said.
In the meantime, if a customer comes in wanting to use the vapor caves, a hot springs mineral bath is being offered instead, she said.
“We have an abundance of hot spring water for that,” Hoban said. “We are still open for business, including spa treatments, wraps and scrubs, mineral baths and our full-service salon.”
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The flooding in the caves occurs when the Colorado River rises to more than nine feet at the location where the natural hot springs that heat the caves flow into the river, explained David Anselmo, marketing director for the Vapor Caves.
As the water table rises from the spring runoff, it backs up the natural springs all along the river, including the separate springs serving the Vapor Caves and the nearby Hot Springs Pool.
“We’re not too worried about it, it happens every spring,” Anselmo said, adding the last time the water level in the caves was as high as this year was back in the record flood year of 1984.
The high-water situation has also caused the Hot Springs Pool to modify its operations this week, Hot Springs Lodge and Pool General Manager Kjell Mitchell said.
“We see it every year also,” he said. “The river reaches a point where the water level is higher than our discharge tunnel, and the water can’t go out.”
With the unusually high water this year, the pool has had to switch to an alternative discharge point farther downstream, Mitchell said.
“We’ve had to do a little bit of sandbagging also, but we’ve been able to control everything at this point,” he said.
While the Colorado River just below Glenwood Springs peaked at more 24,500 cubic feet per second and reached a gauge height of about 10.5 feet last Tuesday, the river level has gone down since then.
On Friday, the Colorado below Glenwood Springs was running at about 23,000 cfs, with a gauge height still around 10.3 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water data website.
“It’s been going down for the last two days,” Anselmo said, adding that it’s hard to predict if the actual runoff peak has occurred yet or not.
Given the amount of snowpack still in the high country, most weather observers believe the highest peak is yet to come.
“It’s always a fun game to play, but this one’s a tough one,” Anselmo said. “Usually you have that one big spike, but some years are different.”