Fraser River jumps banks
June 8, 2010
Residents along the Fraser River awoke Monday to the highest water levels seen in roughly two decades, with flooding in some areas within reach of condominium buildings and lodging units.
In Winter Park, guests at the Beaver’s Village Lodge staying in long-term rental units that historically were part of a fish hatchery near the river evacuated around 6 p.m. Sunday evening to relocate to the main lodge situated uphill.
Beaver’s Village General Manager Mark Johnson said the water levels are at the highest he’s seen since the 1980s.
Johnson was told by local officials that the river was expected to rise another 8 inches by Tuesday.
Where the Fraser River was supposed to bend near Beaver’s Village at the southern end of Winter Park, raging flows from runoff caused the river to leave its banks, flooding low-lying areas and expanding a small pond at Beaver’s Village.
A state inspector examined the dam at the 100 year-old Beavers Pond upriver. The dam held out into Tuesday, but a greater emergency was still possible.
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“Mother nature is gong to do what she’s going to do,” said Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson.
“We’re trying to take as many precautions as we can to preserve life and property,” he said. “We’re dealing with situations we haven’t seen for quite some time.”
But those monitoring the Beavers Pond dam were encouraged on Tuesday by lower temperatures that slowed the pace of melting snow as well as a pumping effort that significantly lowered the water level in the impoundment.
The peak river flows had already washed out a concrete culvert and driveway that accessed a vacation home near Old Town Winter Park. The same driveway washed out in 1984 when the Fraser River reached similar levels, recalled Mike Wajeck, district manager of the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District.
Downstream at the Hi Country Haus three-story condominium complex in Winter Park, residents and visitors – including one couple on their honeymoon – evacuated voluntarily Monday evening. Some stayed with friends or family, others were put up for the night at the Pinnacle Lodge in Fraser through emergency efforts of the Red Cross.
The voluntary evacuation was put in place Sunday evening with concern for residents being unable to access emergency services if the nearby bridges were to wash out.
Sandbags surrounded Hi Country Haus building 12 on two sides on Monday as water crept closer to first-level units.
Building 11 resident Bryce Poe said he felt safe on the second floor, but had heard that an evacuation could be reinstated if water levels continued to rise.
Both the Ski Idlewild bridge and a bridge connecting from the Telemark Condos to the Hi Country Haus neighborhood were blocked off on Monday.
Officials worried that raging flows could cause damage to some of the smaller bridges, according to East Grand Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Soles.
A reverse 911 call was sent out district residents Sunday to warn them of potentially weak bridges and to give people an option to evacuate, according to Soles.
Box culverts have also been in danger of being clogged by debris, he said. Large beetle-kill trees along the banks may fall into the river with the potential to block stream flows and cause further flooding in areas. Soles has even seen railroad ties being carried downstream, he said.
In Granby at the River Run apartments on Monday, the Fraser River flooded wetlands and water rose in the River Run parking lot knee-deep on resident Meghann Bridge.
“We were going to get the inflatable kayak out and float the parking lot later,” Bridge said.
Water from neighboring wetlands had covered more ground overnight Sunday, according to Bridge, as water moved closer to lower-level apartments.
The rampant runoff is from two days of high temperatures that rapidly melted high-elevation snows, creating flood hazards throughout Colorado.
An early June record of 88-degrees was set on Sunday in Grand County, according to data from the Kremmling weather station.
The average temperature is 72 degrees for early June.
The National Weather Service in Denver on Monday issued a “small stream flood advisory” for Eastern Grand County until 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The advisory warned individuals with interests along the river to use “extreme caution” due to high river flows making river banks unstable.
“We weren’t expecting this high of a peak,” said Dave Bennett, Water Resources Project Manager for Denver Water.
The rapid increase in runoff was happening at a time when reservoirs were already near full from East Slope water supplies and transmountain diversions. Gross Reservoir, the recipient of Fraser River Basin diversions, “should be full today,” Bennett said on Monday.
Denver water was diverting a small supply of water on Monday, but as soon as Gross filled, the utility planned to cease its diversions.
By water decree, the utility cannot take more than it needs, and with reservoirs full, there was no longer a need for more Fraser River water.
The peak runoff should start subsiding within a day or two, Bennett said. “There’s not a lot of snow left,” he said.
That remaining quantity of snow could determine whether Granby Reservoir fills.
By Monday, the reservoir was 14 feet from full, officials said.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.