Hayden sees worst flash flooding in many residents’ memory, and it likely isn’t over yet

Dylan Anderson, Tom Skulski and John F. Russell
Steamboat Pilot & Today
A dog sits outside a flooded driveway and garage on Fourth Street in Hayden. Due to heavy spring runoff, large sections of the town were flooded Thursday, April 13, 2023, while the bridge that carries traffic over Dry Creek was closed by the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT also closed a large portion of U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Craig until after 1 p.m. Thursday.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hayden resident Jordan Worden woke up to a call from a friend around 2 a.m. Thursday, April 13, and sprinted out of bed.

“My boots, of course, were floating in the garage,” Worden said. “I had to run out barefoot to grab my sump pump, and thank God I did, because my house would have been much worse.”

Hayden’s Dry Creek certainly didn’t live up to its name Thursday, as flash flooding from melting snow crested its banks around midnight. The floodwaters closed streets, Hayden Valley Schools, the town’s parks and a 38-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 40 to start the day.

Many Hayden residents — whether they are new to town or have spent decades in the Yampa Valley — said they had never seen flooding like this before. While for part of the morning there was a true sense of panic in town, many residents were quick to pump water out of their houses, and their neighbors were ready to help.

Dry Creek Park was closed as the creek’s flows reached the underside of a bridge in the area and construction equipment was employed to keep the waterway free from debris that could have made the flooding worse.

While Thursday’s flooding was significant, officials expect flooding to continue as snow keeps melting. Water in Dry Creek was starting to rise again Thursday evening.

“We were expecting that this would happen,” Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said. “It was a nice day today, wind blew a little bit, perfect melting conditions, (and there is) plenty of snow where this all really originated.”

Swelled by spring a, Dry Creek causes flooding in Hayden early Thursday morning, April 13, 2023. This photo was taken from the walking bridge just off of Sixth Street.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Mendisco was hopeful that flooding wouldn’t be quite as bad in the coming days because colder temperatures in the forecast may slow the snowmelt. Still, the weather looks to warm up again next week.

“It’s massive melting of snow that’s in a very specific area that channels to Dry Creek,” Mendisco said. “All those things that have washed out are washing together in areas of Dry Creek Park, which is good because nobody lives there. That’s fine, Dry Creek Park can wash out. We can rebuild that.”

Areas on the southwest part of town saw some of the most significant impacts, said Mendisco, who is asking residents not to take unnecessary risks.

“It’s not worth it,” Mendisco said. “Be safe, do what you can for your home, but if not, get out of there. We have a big facility. We have places to sleep. We have resources.”

Two elderly residents on the south side of U.S. 40 needed to be evacuated from their homes on Thursday. They were brought to the Hayden Center, which is being used as a shelter for people in need.

Rhonda Sweetser, the recreation director at the Hayden Center, said she got a call at 3:30 a.m. Thursday to help open the community center as an evacuation site.

“We’re still open for evacuation for others who can’t stay in their house,” Sweetser said. “We have cots and food, and we will let people stay here in a safe spot.”

Water from Dry Creek runs under a bridge where the creek intersects with U.S. Highway 40 on Thursday, April, 13, 2023. Crews from the Colorado Department of Transportation brought in an excavator ready to remove any debris that might block the water flow.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Hayden Wastewater Treatment Plant neared its capacity on Thursday, though Mendisco said town officials were able to keep things working properly. Routt County Public Works also brought in additional pumps to ensure the ones in use at the plant were not overtaxed.

“We were basically at 105% (capacity),” Mendisco said.

Hayden officials closed several streets on Thursday as well, with Third, Fourth and Poplar streets all seeing significant flooding. The water submerged roads, flooded garages and made its way into some people’s homes.

Maritza JuanDedios, who owns Creek View Grill in Hayden, said it was hard to get to the restaurant Thursday morning and added there was a lot of water in the basement when she arrived.

“It was just crazy and still is crazy,” JuanDedios said. “We have a lot of water.”

After being able to open about two hours later than normal, JuanDedios said she called the town to see what she could do to help. She ended up sending burritos to town staff, police officers and Colorado Department of Transportation workers who had been up all night dealing with the flooding.

Hayden residents help fill sandbags at the Hayden Police Department on Thursday, April 13, 2023.
Katie Berning/Courtesy photo

At the Hayden Police Station, volunteers showed up to fill hundreds of sandbags that could be used to protect people’s homes. Longtime Hayden resident Kevin Kleckler said his house is up on a hill, away from the floodwaters, but he felt it was his duty to help his neighbors in need.

“This is the most snow I’ve ever seen in Hayden,” Kleckler said. “When you have that much snow and it warms up to 70 degrees or whatever it was, it’s brutal.”

Routt County Commissioner and former Hayden Mayor Tim Redmond said he hadn’t seen flooding like this before either, though it was reminiscent of the spring of 1984 — a year Kleckler recalled as a high water year as well.

Several ranchers in West Routt have also reached out to Redmond with concerns about how the flooding could affect their calving efforts, as the ranchers fear not being able to get to their calves, which in some cases may be just hours old.

“Their fields are flooding, and they don’t have a really good way to get to their cattle,” Redmond said. “It’s hard to move these calves that are newborn, and they’re still at risk of drowning.”

In Steamboat Springs, a mudslide was reported near Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park early Thursday, which is why the highway closure stretched all the way to Steamboat, according to an email update that Routt County Emergency Manager David “Mo” DeMorat sent commissioners just before noon Thursday.

Jordan Worden uses a shovel to clear a path for water to drain on Fourth Street in downtown Hayden on Thursday, April 13, 2023.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Public Works Director Jon Snyder said they are keeping an eye on Yampa River tributaries in the city, with Butcherknife Creek likely being the first that could cause issues.

U.S. 40 was closed to through traffic between Steamboat and Craig until after 1 p.m. Thursday, though the road was largely free of the flooding. Rather, CDOT officials were concerned about a key bridge just west of Hayden, and waited for an engineer to inspect it before reopening the highway. The bridge may eventually close the highway again if floodwaters rise overnight after a day of melting, DeMorat wrote in his update.

Mendisco said residents should call 911 if they need emergency help and call Routt County’s nonemergency dispatch line at 970-879-1110 if they need information.

He also asked that residents help clean out storm drains clogged with debris to allow the system to help control the flooding. 

“The fire department and everybody else around here have all the resources to help folks,” Mendisco said. “We’ll make it through this.”

This story is from Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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