Basalt plots flood control strategy |

Basalt plots flood control strategy

BASALT – The Basalt Town Council took an important first step Tuesday night to protect public infrastructure in case of flooding this spring, but it re-emphasized that residents must take their own steps to protect private property.

The council voted unanimously to authorize Town Manager Bill Kane to spend funds as needed in emergency flood control. Mayor Leroy Duroux suggested the move as a way to save valuable time if the need arises.

“The flooding potential is really great right now,” Duroux said. “Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. It’s all weather dependent.”

Unless there is unseasonably warm weather in the next few weeks, the peak runoff won’t come before late June since there has been little melting of the snowpack. The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Tuesday that the snowpack east of Aspen was 361 percent of average for that date. The snowpack at the 10,600-foot elevation had water content of 18.4 inches, the federal agency reported. The 30-year average for water content at this time of year is 5.1 inches.

In the Upper Fryingpan River basin, the snowpack at Nast is 330 percent of average. That water content was 22.8 inches yesterday compared to an average of 6.9 inches for that date.

“We’re worried about our bridges,” Kane told the council. The fear is tree trunks and other debris washed down the rivers could wrap around bridge supports, causing flooding and damaging the structures. Kane said he wants to put heavy equipment on “stand-by” close to the project peak so it would be available to remove debris from around bridges.

In the bigger picture, Basalt’s focus will be on keeping residents informed and to evacuate endangered areas if necessary. Some residents have asked Town Hall why it isn’t filling and placing sandbags around low-lying properties, according to Kane. He said he explains that local flooding will come fast and furious so sandbags will probably be of little use. It’s not like the Mississippi River where the water level gradually increases.

Pitkin County has dumped road base at the Storey property, near the Basalt store, and at Old Pond Park. People who need sandbags are welcome to fill them there on their own.

“We’re not in the business of protecting private property,” Duroux said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water management at Ruedi Reservoir has also come under scrutiny. The agency boosted water releases from the dam earlier than usual to draw down the reservoir’s water level and make room for runoff. But it’s tricky business: The agency also wants the reservoir to fill for uses later in the summer, so it doesn’t want to draw the water level down too low.

Duroux said he “wasn’t terribly impressed” with the limited amount of information the bureau released on its strategy in a public meeting in El Jebel last week. In that meeting, bureau water managers said they believe the reservoir will fill to capacity by early July. They said they don’t anticipate boosting releases into the lower Fryingpan River beyond 800 cubic feet per second this spring. Flooding starts shortly above that level.

“They assured everybody there won’t be any flooding,” Duroux reported to the Town Council last night, “but I’m not sure about that.”

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