Yampa breaches banks

Last week's high temperatures melted the mountain snowpack faster than the Yampa River could handle, causing it to swell and, in some places, overrun its banks.

The National Weather Ser--vice issued a flood watch for parts of eastern Moffat County on Saturday morning.

Jim Pringle, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the weather service in Grand Junction, said the flood watch will remain in effect until the potential for flooding goes away.

"It could last well over a week," he said.

Temperatures are expected to cool down this week, Pringle said. On Wednesday, there is a 20 percent chance of rain at higher elevations.

Late spring and early summer runoff causes the Yampa to flood in some places every year, but this year, high temperatures came earlier, melting the snowpack faster.

The weather service's gauge on the Yampa, located near the Highway 13 bridge south of town, shows the river at 9.1 feet Monday, just over the "bank full" stage.

The water may not be exactly 9.1 feet from the riverbed to the surface, Weather Service hydrologist Brian Avery said, because it is measured from a point below ground set by the United States Geological Survey.

Flood stage is 11 feet.

Avery expects the river to peak at 9.5 feet at about midnight today.

"There's probably not enough snow left to make (floodwaters) go much higher than they are at mid-week," Avery said.

The Yampa began exceeding its banks in low-lying areas late last week. By Monday, the river had flooded pasturelands and wooded areas east and west of town.

At Elam Construction Inc., east of town, the river hasn't flooded its gravel pit, but a large portion of the field north of its office was under water Monday morning.

"There hasn't been water in that field for three or four years," Elam office manager Lisa Lawton said.

Although this year's flooding is worse than last year's, Lawton said it is nothing compared with 1997, when flooding shut down Elam for four days.

"Our whole pit was under water," Lawton said.

Since 1997, Elam installed dykes to protect the gravel pit from the Yampa's annual flooding.

"We shouldn't have any shutdowns this year," Lawton said.

West of town, the Yampa floods Robert McClellan's property every year.

"I like it, it makes the grass grow," McClellan said Monday while standing ankle-deep in water on his recently-flooded property.

McClellan's daughters, Kyra, 11, and Krysta, 9, had to put their chickens in a loft to keep them away from the floodwaters and foxes.

Kyra likes the annual floodwaters but said some of her pets don't.

"The ducks like it, but the chickens don't," she said.

Krysta said the ducks and geese were "having a party."

McClellan said it usually takes about two weeks for the floodwaters to subside and his land to dry up.

"We'll have a mosquito problem like you wouldn't believe," he said.

Debris from the Yampa's recent swell means some area bridges could be in danger.

Adam Padilla, deputy maintenance supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation in Craig, said CDOT crews have been working to clear debris from under bridges for a couple of days.

"If trees get lodged under bridges, they create stress on the bridge," Padilla said.

Padilla said CDOT crews know where the problem areas on the river are, so they monitor those bridges and clear debris before it can threaten bridges.

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