Beavers flood Hwy. 82 near Aspen |

Beavers flood Hwy. 82 near Aspen

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance worker Gary Williams, of Car­bondale, walks past a debris-filled culvert Sunday on Highway 82, east of Aspen. ( Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” “Did a toilet overflow?” yelled a biker on Sunday, as he zipped through the water flowing across Highway 82, just east of North Star Drive.

But the flooded highway ” and bike path ” was, in fact the work of beavers. The subsequent power outage, however, was the work of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Over the weekend, debris from a beaver dam lodged into the 24-inch diameter culvert under Highway 82 and the nearby bike path east of Aspen, according to Don Poole, a CDOT junior foreman.

He confirmed that recent warm weather and increased flows had likely pushed the debris into the culvert.

CDOT crews responded to reports of flooding at about 1 p.m. on Saturday, said John Armstrong, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails ranger.

Workers damaged the power line while trying to clean out the culvert at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Poole said. Power was cut off to residents east of the blocked culvert, he said, and it was restored Sunday at approximately 2 p.m.

An industrial water pump arrived at about 5:30 Sunday evening. Poole thought it would take two hours to pump the water across the road, so crews could begin to clear the top of the culvert.

“We can’t even see it, it’s so deep,” he said.

Once crews remove the beaver-made lake, they hope to be able to fix the culvert.

“It might be real simple,” said Poole, speculating that the top of the galvanized steel corrugated culvert could just be folded up. It could also be blocked by a large rock or branches, he said.

In the worst-case scenario, said Poole, crews will have to break open the road and pull the culvert out. Such a remedy could take a few days, he estimated.

By Sunday, CDOT had tried various strategies to clear the culvert, none successfully. Workers arriving on scene on Saturday first cleared the bottom of the culvert, said Poole. Once the outflow was clear, they stuck a rod up the 75-foot pipe in the hopes of knocking the debris from the culvert’s upper section. But the debris would not be knocked loose.

CDOT also brought in a load of dirt in the hopes of building a berm to divert flowing water to either side of the culvert. The agency hoped that without running water to contend with, iworkers would be able to clear out the top of the culvert.

However, upon realizing there were also two phone lines and a gas line running across the top of the culvert, CDOT decided it would need to pump the newly formed pool of water out. The agency wanted its workers to be able to see well enough not to damage any other utility lines, explained Poole.

Once CDOT fixes the culvert, it will need to repair the bike path. Water washing over the path is removing the road base.

This isn’t the first time a beaver has clogged this particular culvert, said Poole. He recalled a blockage two years ago.

“They’re fast and efficient ” there ain’t no doubt about it,” he said. “They can pretty much overnight get water going any way they want to.”

Lake County Open Space ranger John Armstrong said he planned to suggest that CDOT give “Beaver Deceiver” Skip Lisle a call. In April, Lisle helped Pitkin County with the ongoing battle to maintain beaver habitat in Brush Creek near Snowmass Village without cutting off water to historic agricultural ditches. Lisle sneaks water around the beavers’ dams, allowing them to build dams that don’t result in damaged property.

In the meantime, CDOT employees will work on the blocked culvert around the clock until it is clear.

And those tasked with warning traffic will continue to listen to the wisecracks.

Their favorites so far? “Are the fish biting?” and “Is there a lifeguard present?”