Officials brace for spring thaw’s high water |

Officials brace for spring thaw’s high water

Melting snow flows in a ditch along County Road 83 near Tabernash on Thursday, April 24. The high snowpack this year has the potential to create flooding and erosion problems.
Byron Hetzler/ | Sky-Hi News

An above-average buildup of snow lies in the mountain above Grand County, set to gush toward the Colorado River and its tributaries once the temperatures rise.

Many county officials and land managers are bracing themselves for a runoff season comparable to 2011, which ripped up roads, clogged culverts, surged rivers, flooded farms and caused a lot of distress for county residents.

The latest snow data will be reported on May 1, but according to this month’s Natural Resource Conservation Service snow survey, snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 144 percent. In 2011, April’s snowpack was at 135 percent.

“My guess is to be ready for a year like 2011,” said Mark Volt, snow surveyor for the NRCS, in am email. “(It) all depends on if it keeps snowing and how fast it warms up now.”

The Grand County Office of Emergency Management crew has been meeting with town managers, police chiefs and other county officials to assess snowpack and water level reports in order to develop a response plan.

With lessons learned from the 2011 season, EMS emergency manager Nowell Curran has also updated the “High Water” public safety brochure.

“As usual, the Office of Emergency Management will exercise its emergency website and Code Red system,” she said. “In the meantime, we’ve all agreed to keep eye on water levels and send information as needed.”

The “Code Red” notification system alerts county residents and visitors to emergency situations via mobile phones. Interested participants can sign up at to receive text messages and download the smartphone app.

The “High Water” safety information guide provides information specific to Grand County on how to prepare for possible flooding, and how to respond safely during a high water emergency. A PDF copy of the brochure is available by visiting this story online at

Emergency Management officials have also coordinated with Grand County Road and Bridge to identify bridges and culverts that could collect debris during high runoff events and cause flooding. According to Superintendent Ken Haynes, Road and Bridge relies on citizens to keep an eye on these structures as well and report any issues. He also encourages calls reporting road damage.

“We appreciate calls from all citizens,” Haynes said. “If water washes across roads and makes a rut, call our dispatch any time of day or night. Debris can cause a washout overnight.”

Emergency officials and road and bridge workers will also be providing free sand and sand loading equipment so residents can make their own sandbags during flood events. Bags to hold the sand are available at Ace Hardware stores in Fraser and Granby as well as Northwest Ranch Supply in Kremmling. Sand piles are available at all the county’s road and bridge offices.

Road work patience

As for current road damage, Haynes asked residents and visitors to be patient while his crew works on repairs.

“The roads are rough, but it’s going to take a while for them to dry out,” he said. “We know there are problems everywhere, but we can’t be everywhere at once.”

As for the U.S. Forest Service’s 600 miles of road and 400 miles of trail in the Sulphur Ranger District, officials are urging outdoor enthusiasts to wait out the mud season.

“We’d like to encourage everyone, whether they’re mountain bikers, hikers or people on ATVs, to allow roads and trails to dry completely,” said Reid Armstrong with the Sulphur Ranger District. “As eager as people are to get out there, the longer they wait, the better shape the roads will be in for the rest of the season.”

The local Forest Service regulations state roads will open for the summer on June 15, but Armstrong said that date isn’t hard-and-fast. In drier years, the roads can open earlier. During wet springs, like this season is anticipated to be, they can open later.

Most U.S. Forest Service roads in the county have gates, which forest managers will close and lock if a road’s not safe for driving. Armstrong said it’s likely roads will be buried in snow for the next few months, and it’s important to respect closures.

“Even if you can’t see snow at the gate, it’s there when you go higher up,” she said. “If people get in early and try to use a road before it’s ready, the road can collapse or you get ruts which make for rough riding.”

Forest visitors can get a Motor Vehicle Use Map for the Suphur Ranger District, which includes dates seasonal roads usually open and close, as well as check on the current status of many forest service roads by visiting

Like officials with the county road and bridge and emergency management offices, Armstrong also encourages visitors to contact the Sulphur Ranger District if they notice any block culverts or dangerous road conditions by calling 970-887-4100.

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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