A flood of problems along waterways in Garfield County
June 9, 2011
GARFIELD COUNTY – Rifle rancher Jim Snyder hasn’t seen anything quite like the flooding that hit his land along the Colorado River this week since the early 1980s.”You can’t believe the power of that water. You’ve got to get out of the way,” Snyder said Wednesday, as the river flooded its banks into his fields. The ranch is just off the north frontage road near the Garfield County Airport exit on Interstate 70.And stay out of the way he will, at least until the waters subside enough to start cleaning things up.Then, he’ll have a ton of work to do to remove the driftwood and debris by hand. Bringing heavy equipment onto the wet fields would cause too much damage.”If you’re in this business, you must have a strong back and a weak mind,” Snyder said as he worked with Brady Hogan of Hogan’s Haulers, who was delivering rocks and dirt to try to reclaim the flooded driveway heading into the ranch.Around Garfield County, property owners and public officials were busy again Wednesday, as they’ll likely be for the next week or two, keeping tabs on trouble spots along the spring runoff-swollen Colorado River and its tributaries.Up Main Elk Creek north of New Castle, a private bridge leading to a home washed away overnight Tuesday, stranding the owner on the other side of the creek from the county road, Garfield County Road and Bridge foreman Wyatt Keesbery reported on the county’s website.Three county roads were closed due to road damage caused by the flooding, including a portion of County Road 317 southwest of Rifle and County Road 311 between Rifle and Rulison.County Road 320 is also closed for about one mile from the intersection at County Road 323. Until repairs can be made, motorists can use County Road 309 as an alternate route in that area, Keesbery said.
Meanwhile, water levels receded enough Wednesday to reopen County Road 217 through Rifle Mountain Park.”The water is not coming up on the road any longer in that area, and our culverts are working properly, so we don’t feel it is a hazard to travelers now,” Keesbery said.Rifle Parks Director Tom Whitmore said the park itself was also reopened Wednesday afternoon, though some campsites will remain closed until they are dry.”Right now, we’re holding everything on the county road system in place really well,” Keesbery said. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to close anything else for a while.”Sitting on the back patio at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites along the river south of Silt, hotel guest Debbie Thayne took an occasional peek up from her book to glance at the fast-moving river.”We were watching the flooding all the way here, coming through Rangely and Meeker,” said Thayne, of northeast Utah, who was accompanying her husband while he worked in the nearby natural gas fields.”It’s amazing how much water there is coming down, but it’s kind of pretty, too,” she said.Inside, hotel general manager Joe Kurley was arranging to have sandbags placed along the river bank later this week.”This is the highest we’ve seen it since we’ve been here,” Kurley said of the hotel, which opened in September 2008. “I think we’ll need to put sandbags out there, just to be safe. We’ve had some guests who were concerned about the high water, and we’re definitely keeping an eye on it.”The nearby county bridge, across the river and just upstream from the hotel, is another potential trouble spot, and could be closed if the river gets high enough, according to county officials.
Farther upstream in Glenwood Canyon, the Colorado Department of Transportation reported more damage to the bicycle path, parts of which are being undercut by the rising river.”We have discovered a partial bridge section just west of the [Hanging Lake] tunnels that’s just completely gone,” CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks said. “We’ll have to wait until things dry out to assess the full damage, but it’s not looking great right now.”River levels in the canyon were down some Wednesday compared to the previous day, she said.”It’s down by as much as a foot since Wednesday, but reports show it’s supposed to peak a couple more times yet,” Shanks said.The high water near Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs meant longtime local resident Greg Lafayette had to find a new fishing hole.”I usually fish right where the rivers (Colorado and Roaring Fork) come together, but you can’t even get a line in there right now,” he said, as set his line below the boat ramp instead. “I found a spot where they’re biting.”But I’ve never seen the river this high, and I’ve been here a while,” he said.Local river guide Cody Nelson and some friends found a warm spot in the sun at Two Rivers Park after a private float down the Roaring Fork from Carbondale Wednesday afternoon.”This is the highest I’ve seen since I’ve lived here,” said the 19-year Glenwood Springs resident. “The Roaring Fork isn’t too bad, but the Colorado is pretty high. We’ve been seeing some weird waves out there that we’ve never noticed before.”Nelson advised boaters using the rivers to show extra respect during the spring runoff.”It’s really high and really powerful out there right now,” he said. “It’s also really cold. You don’t want to get in it, that’s for sure.”email@example.com