Roaring Fork lives up to its name as flows rise again |

Roaring Fork lives up to its name as flows rise again

John Colson

The Roaring Fork River is living up to its name this spring, as water levels continue to be high well after state and local officials believed the spring runoff had peaked.

But officials said on Wednesday they still expect no flooding in the Aspen area, despite the fact that visual observations may alarm some whose homes are directly alongside the Roaring Fork in Aspen.

According to Alan Martellaro, assistant division engineer of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Roaring Fork peaked at a flow of about 1,250 cubic feet per second on June 21, at a station just above Aspen.

At that point in the river, said Aspen Water Department Supervisor Phil Overeynder, the channel’s capacity is only 1,000 cfs, “so it’s a little bit over its banks.”

The river peaked below the confluence of Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork on Wednesday, at 2,500 cfs. The capacity of the channel there is 4,000 cfs.

Martellaro said the timing of the Roaring Fork’s peak was somewhat surprising, because officials had believed the spring snowmelt runoff had peaked a couple of weeks earlier.

But on Wednesday, he said, the river once again got up to around 1,200 cfs just above Aspen, probably because of high temperatures during the previous couple of days.

“Anything above a thousand used to be a problem,” Martellaro said, but various flood-control projects instituted in 1995 seem to have raised the bar for potential floods. It was in 1995 that the river, swollen by an unusually deep snowpack in the mountains, left its banks in several places and caused considerable damage from Aspen to Basalt.

Jeff Woods, director of Aspen’s parks and recreation department, said his department has had to deal with high water at some locations, mainly by closing the kids play area at Herron Park and posting warning signs along the Rio Grande Trail where it passes under Mill Street, next to the Aspen Art Museum. Although the trail was not under water as of Wednesday afternoon, state and local water watchers could not promise that the river would not rise to slosh over the trail again this spring.

“We may not have seen the exact peak,” said Overeynder, “but we’re very close.”

Overeynder said the river had been running at around 800 or 900 cfs at the end of last week, and other local officials said this week’s “spike” in the river levels may well be the last.

Martellaro said one reason for the spike is that state water resource officials have been unable to divert water into the tunnels leading from the Roaring Fork Valley over into the Arkansas River Valley. The Twin Lake tunnel was built to take Western Slope water to the other side of the Continental Divide, and has in the past been used to keep the Roaring Fork’s floodwaters at bay.

But the wet spring has filled up the reservoirs along the Arkansas River basin. The Twin Lakes tunnel has been closed off for several weeks, Martellaro said.

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