River levels may have hit peak
June 14, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Area river levels may very well have peaked last week when the Colorado River rose to more than 10 feet through the Glenwood Springs area, ripping apart sections of the Glenwood Canyon bike trail and flooding of private property farther downstream near Rifle.
But it’s still hard to say for sure if area rivers have reached their peak levels for the season.
The one factor that could push river levels even higher is if temperatures get hot enough this week to significantly increase the pace of the remaining high country snowmelt, according to Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“We have seen the rivers come back down a little bit, and things seem to have stabilized as far as the flood threat,” Strautins said Monday.
“We are looking at the snowpack levels, and we’re still indicating that we have some up there yet,” he said. “A warming trend toward the middle of this week may bring river levels back up, but we’re not expecting to see a crest quite as high as what we saw last week.”
On Tuesday, June 7, the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs rose to 25,640 cubic feet per second (cfs) and a depth of 10.8 feet.
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In Glenwood Canyon, the high water buckled parts of the concrete bike trail, and water came up onto the railroad tracks on the south side of the river in places.
Since then, however, river levels have receded somewhat. As of late Monday afternoon, the Colorado River at the U.S. Geological Survey’s official gauging station near Two Rivers Park was reading 21,900 cfs, with a gauge height of just over 10 feet.
If the June 7 level holds as the peak high for this season, it would be the third highest crest since records started being kept for the Glenwood location in 1967, eclipsed only by the record runoff years of 1983 and 1984.
The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs, just above the confluence with the Colorado, crested at a little more than 8,100 cfs and 6.8 feet on June 7. The Roaring Fork on Monday was running at 5,880 cfs and just shy of 6 feet.
After the rush of water early last week, moderate temperatures overnight and during the day over the past week have served to slow the pace of the spring runoff following an above-average snowpack year.
With about 27 percent of the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin yet to come down, it’s not out of the question that there could be a new peak.
“We’re about three-quarters melted out at the sites we’re monitoring,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the National Resources Conservation Service. “So, we are past the majority of the snowmelt, but we’ve still got some snow up there. By next week, we should be pretty much melted out at those sites.”
The Roaring Fork watershed is also nearing the point where peak flows likely have been seen there as well, he said.
“Most of the sites we’re monitoring there below 11,000 feet are pretty much all melted out,” Gillespie said. “The snow that’s still at the higher elevations is not really enough to cause any flood potential.”
Officials are expecting Colorado River levels to remain above normal for the next few weeks, with some fluctuation depending on temperatures and weather patterns.