Most Grand County rivers likely have peaked for the season |

Most Grand County rivers likely have peaked for the season

Tonya Bina
Grand County, CO Colorado
Tonahutu Creek flows at past a new retaining wall built at the Rapids Lodge on Tuesday afternoon in Grand Lake. The creek was flowing at about 550 cubic feet per second and has receded slightly in the past few days. Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

GRAND COUNTY – Although Middle Park may be on the downhill side of flood fears, it’s expected rivers will be flowing high well into July.

“It’s high, but it’s not the highest I’ve ever seen it,” said Tom Ludwig, 13-year owner of the Rapids Restaurant in Grand Lake situated at the North Inlet. The North Inlet delivers water from the high-elevation wilderness area in Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake, deemed a true source of the Colorado River.

The highest Ludwig has seen flows on the inlet was when the Grand Ditch in Rocky Mountain National Park breached back in May 2003, he said.

Built in 1915, the Rapids Restaurant is often a “hot spot” for flood issues because of its proximity to the inlet.

“Every year it comes out of its banks,” Ludwig said.

This year in early May, Ludwig pre-empted sandbagging by building a 2.5-foot rock and clay wall along the Inlet to better protect his property, and kept 200 sandbags at-the-ready. But due to the steady snowmelt this season with alternating cold and warm periods, runoff never breached the wall, he said, and not one sandbag has been needed.

From his experience watching the inlet, Ludwig guessed the river peaked this past Sunday, June 26. Its nightly roar can be heard three miles away at Ludwig’s home on Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

Grand County Emergency Manager Trevor Denney is breathing a cautioned sigh of relief that flooding in Grand County so far this year hasn’t caused feared property damage or safety emergencies.

Warmer temperatures into the weekend created a second peak in flows, but no more spikes are expected, Denney said, barring any unanticipated heavy rains.

The Fraser River is bank full, and in a few areas has jumped out of its banks, but damage has been limited to landscaping and grass.

At the Hi Country Haus in Winter Park, Fraser River flows have been “pretty light compared to last year,” said Eric Stump, property manager for the facility. The condominium complex had flooding in crawl spaces and water up to the decks last year, but this year, “only one set of sandbags got touched so far,” Stump said.

Upstream on the Fraser, a drive crossing to the private Hunt property is nowhere near in the state of damage it was last year and another time in the 1980s, when the entire drive collapsed due to accumulated debris stuck in the culverts from high river flows. The owners were forced to replace the crossing, which provides the sole access to their home.

“Last year was really more of a fluke in some of the flooding we saw,” said Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson.

Last year’s flooding prompted better education and preparation for this year than in years past, he said, with frequent flooding updates to homeowners with help from the Grand County Emergency Information network.

High flows will continue in Grand County rivers with the Colorado River at Kremmling nearly reaching the 10,000 cfs mark from the weekend’s warmer temperatures, according to measurements collected by the U.S. Geological Survey. Increased flows out of the Granby and Williams Fork reservoirs have been adding to high Colorado River flows.

County Road 39 near County Road 2 on the west end of Grand County has been closed since June 25 due to high water on the Colorado. Although inconvenienced, residents have an alternative route to Highway 9.

Also during the weekend, there was high water from St. Louis Creek that covered one lane of County Road 5 by the ballfields in Fraser, Denney said.

Other than those few incidents, there have been very few calls if any regarding emergency situations from the flooding, Denney said.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is releasing more water from the Granby Dam into the Colorado River. Combined releases from the dam reached around 2,200 cfs starting late last week, said Kara Lamb of the Bureau of Reclamation. System operators now plan to cut back releases out of Granby by 200 cfs per day until releases are at 1,000 cfs, she said.

Granby reservoir is not yet full as water managers have been reserving storage for remaining high-elevation snowpack. But many say the upper Colorado drainage has reached its peak inflows. It’s expected the reservoir will fill by mid-July.

“We’re very confident it’s going to fill,” Lamb said.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603.

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