The Yampa River overflows from this vantage point on U.S. Highway 40 east of Craig.

Photo by Ben McCanna

The Yampa River overflows from this vantage point on U.S. Highway 40 east of Craig.

Yampa River station recording highest flows since 1984

Jason Back, head professional at Yampa Valley Golf Course in Craig, said there were more water hazards on his golf course than usual Wednesday.

“Hole number two has a lake on it,” Back said.

The golf course is one example of flooding in the region from the Yampa River.

Michael Lewis, associate director of hydrologic data at the U.S. Geological Survey's Colorado Water Science Center in Lakewood, said the flows on the Yampa River are historic.

On Wednesday, a USGS monitoring station west of Craig measured the highest flows since the station was installed in 1984.

“It’s a relatively short period of record we have at that gauge,” Lewis said. “It was started in ’84. But, it is a new record for that gauge.”

The gauge recorded flows of 16,200 cubic feet per second Wednesday afternoon, and the water level was just shy of a benchmark, Lewis said.

“We’re just a tenth of a foot short of flood stage, which is 11 ½ feet,” he said.

Downstream from Craig, flows are the second highest in recorded history. The highest flows were recorded in 1984, Lewis said.

In Maybell on Wednesday, the flow was measured at 19,000 cfs. The next highest reading was 25,1000 cfs in 1984.

In Craig, several areas were showing signs of flooding.

Loudy-Simpson Park in Craig was partially submerged, and northern sections of the park were underwater and closed.

The Yampa River east of town also submerged property owned by Northwest Ready Mix, including a gravel pit.

Co-owner Roger Simones, who lives in an apartment on the property, said the river is higher than he’s ever seen it.

“I’ve started moving my things up,” he said. “I put my stuff up on shelves.

“If it gets up another foot or so, I’m going to get nervous.”

At the golf course, Back said the front nine holes were closed until the waters recede. The back nine was open for business, with the exception of the 16th hole.

Back said the last major flooding event at the golf course occurred in 1984.

“It was shut down for 60 days,” he said.

Back said the riverbanks were improved with levees after that flood, and he expects the outcome from this year’s flooding will be better.

“It’ll take a week to get back to normal after the river drops,” he said.

Within city limits, Craig was sitting high and dry, City Road and Bridge Department Director Randy Call said.

“Everything is just peachy,” he said. “Fortification Creek is behaving itself.”

Call added that there were no road closures in town.

Lewis said there are reasons to be optimistic — at least in the short term.

“The forecast from the Weather Service has a slight cooling trend coming over the next few days,” he said.

That means snowmelt runoffs will either diminish or hold at their current levels, he said.

However, worse flooding could be right around the bend. Lewis said he’s seen data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that suggests snow pack in the Yampa River and White River watersheds is 264-percent higher than average for this time of year.

“There’s enough snow up there that if we got above average temperatures we could be higher than we are now,” Lewis said of water levels. “The potential does exist.”

Flooding in Baggs

North of Craig, in the small town of Baggs, Wyo., flooding was more severe.

Mayor Kathy Staman said the city has constructed roughly 4,000 feet of temporary berms and levees and residents are fighting back the Little Snake River with sandbags and the help of the National Guard.

Staman said Baggs residents haven’t suffered any damage to homes, but there is minor street flooding.

“The streets are a little wet, but we dodged another bullet,” she said.

Staman said the town has been preparing for floodwaters since May. Those preparations have paid off.

“I have to call it a success story,” she said. “Knock on wood, because I don’t think we’re through with it yet. But, we’ve done enough preparations since Mother’s Day that we’ve withstood an enormous amount of water.”

Businesses remain open, she said.

“The store, the gas station, and, of course, the liquor store are doing great business,” she said.

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