River-side residents in Aspen, midvalley prepared but didn’t panic about runoff
The Roaring Fork River is expected to fill its banks by this morning but not reach flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.
There was a bit of an unknown when the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. announced earlier in the week that diversions to the Front Range would cease Thursday, resulting in an increase in the water in Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River. The water company’s allotment at Twin Lakes on the other side of the Continental Divide filled Thursday. As a result, an additional 550 cubic feet per second of water started flowing into the Roaring Fork River starting at about 1 p.m. Thursday.
Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald said higher flows in the Roaring Fork River were evident Friday morning compared with Thursday evening. Twin Lakes officials told her the water levels released into the Roaring Fork wouldn’t exceed 550 cfs. In addition, runoff levels are easing. As a result she doesn’t expect problems with flooding.
“It’s past peak and it’s not going to get higher,” MacDonald said.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory for the Roaring Fork River near Aspen, but only minor lowland flooding is expected.
“This heavy runoff will cause the Roaring Fork River to hover near to above bank full stage into early next week,” the weather service office in Grand Junction said in a notice. Bank full stage is 4.0. Flood stage is 5.0. The river was expected to rise to 4 feet by early morning today, according to the weather service.
MacDonald credited Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. officials with providing notice about its plan to end diversions four days in advance.
“It allows people to prepare,” she said. “People who live along the river know what to expect and act accordingly.”
While the rise in the river was evident in places such as North Star Nature Preserve on Friday, it went unnoticed in the midvalley. Some residents of the River Oaks neighborhood in Basalt, including Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and her husband, Tim, added sandbags to reduce threats to houses, or in some cases, to landscaping.
Whitsitt said water has risen in a side channel of the Roaring Fork River beside their property in big runoff years such as 1995, 2011 and this year. The peak at her place was Monday into Tuesday, which coincides with when releases from Ruedi Reservoir peaked. She said the river’s water level at her house didn’t increase even though diversions ended and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. released more water.
Rick Lofaro, executive director of Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit focused on water issues, said the increase of flows by 550 cfs on the upper Roaring Fork was offset in the midvalley by lower releases starting Friday from Ruedi Reservoir and probably because streamflows are dropping as the snowpack melts out.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decreased releases from Ruedi Reservoir from 917 cfs to approximately 717 cfs on Friday morning. Ruedi Reservoir is expected to fill to capacity today or tonight. And right on cue, inflow to the reservoir is expected to plummet. The forecast by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showed in the inflow falling below 900 cfs starting today.
Basalt Police Chief Greg Knot said no problems were reported on the Fryingpan River through Basalt during the period of highest releases.
“It put water right at a couple of patios,” he said.
Knott credited reclamation bureau hydrologist Tim Miller with keeping Basalt officials well informed about the timing of changes in the releases from the Ruedi dam.
The police department’s level of awareness remains high and they will continue to monitor water levels, he said.
The bountiful snowpack late last winter captured the attention of midvalley residents along the river, according to Bill Hegberg, a resident of River Oaks and vice president of the homeowners association.
“We got concerned in March so we bought 1,000 sandbags,” he said. “That’s pretty cheap insurance.”
Several people with riverfront property have old sandbags in place that became part of landscaped berms. A few residents added sandbags this year to cover low spots on their property.
Hegberg said his house is 3 feet above the flood plain so he wasn’t concerned.
“The river is 3 feet below our berm,” he said Wednesday.
He just added a handful of sandbags in a low spot in his yard.
The timing of runoff of the heavy snowpack has been ideal. Instead of heating up for an extended period during spring or early summer, there have been cold snaps between periods of melting.
“We’ve been saved this year, in our neighborhood, by the cold spells,” Hegberg said.
MacDonald and Knott said their primary concern continues to be people who enter the river. Numerous individuals have been plucked out of the water by Roaring Fork Fire Rescue’s swift water team. The latest incident occurred at about 5 p.m. Thursday when a raft overturned downstream from Hook’s Bridge in the midvalley. Two men, a women and a dog swam to an island, called authorities and waited for aid rather than attempt to cross the fast-moving water to shore, according to Kevin Issel, deputy chief with the fire department. No one was injured and they did exactly the right thing to seek help, he said.
Sixteen volunteers responded. They rigged a pulley system and members entered the water to guide a boat over to the island. The stranded river runners were hauled to shore one at a time without incident.
A flood advisory was canceled Thursday for the Crystal River. The weather service said the river crested at 4.5 feet near Redstone and would continue to fall. Flood stage is 5.0.
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The Aspen and Carbondale community schools will hold a mid-May fundraiser that they hope will set them on the right financial path for 2021-22.