Agencies brace for ‘robust’ runoff in Grand County
April 8, 2011
Water operators, county and town officials have started planning for this year’s high water season.
If this spring is anything like last year when the high country experienced consecutive hot days during peak runoff, there’s a chance of flooding, officials say.
Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin contains 142 percent of the average water content for this time of year, meaning it’s a “pretty robust year” for snowpack, said Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesperson Dana Strongin.
In fact, in an April 5 “Runoff Update,” Northern blogged: “Some of us are using words like ‘epic’ to describe the West Slope snowpack.”
The Grand County Office of Emergency Management has held its first meeting with town managers and public works directors to talk about planning for high water levels and coordinating with dam operators.
The towns and county are organizing a program to make sandbags available at a discounted rate, said Trevor Denney, Grand County’s Emergency Manager.
If stream levels start to rise quickly, alerts will be sent to people in low-lying areas along streams, Denney said.
Notifications will be made through Reverse 911 and the cell phone system Code Red. (For those not signed up with the local Code Red notification system, visit http://www.gcemergency.com, or call 970-887-2732.)
From the unexpected flooding that took place last year, areas of special concern are along the Fraser River, such as by the Hi Country Haus and Beaver’s Village Lodge in Winter Park and near housing complexes in Granby, along the Colorado River between Lake Granby and Windy Gap, and along the North Inlet in the town of Grand Lake.
The Fraser River Basin is at about 136 percent of average for snowpack water content.
Of priority will be watching for dead-fallen trees and other large debris that can get swept downstream and caught under bridges or culverts, blocking water flows, Denney said.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is planning controlled releases out of Granby Dam in its preparation for the runoff season. As of Wednesday, April 6, Granby Dam elevation sat at 22 feet from full. Willow Creek snowpack is at 150 percent of average.
Beginning April 6, releases from Granby Dam into the Colorado River increased by 60 cfs. Another increase brought the flow below the dam to 140 cfs. Another change on Friday is planned to bring the flow to about 200 cfs through the weekend.
Northern is also making changes at Willow Creek Dam. Flows in Willow Creek below the dam could be as high as 350 cfs.
The early controlled releases before dams reach capacity should help avoid major peaks in rivers, Strongin said.
Whether the Granby Dam reaches the point of the spillway will depend on weather and water levels, she said.
The last time the Granby Dam spilled was in 2000. Last year, Northern narrowly averted a spill by conducting releases.
“We’re trying to avoid a flood in that area,” Strongin said.
Although peak runoff is impossible to predict since it greatly depends on spring weather temperatures in the area, last year’s runoff peaked the first week of June due to consecutive 80-degree days that hastened the pace of high-elevation melting snow.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.