And just like that, the threat of flooding seemed to decrease.
Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist in the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, has been checking on local rivers’ ebb and flow.
He’s traveled to Lake City, where avalanche debris took out the sheriff’s house last winter, and the town recently braced for massive flooding. “We’ve been working with Hinsdale County, helping them prepare for any issues” — as Strautins prudently put it — “that could come with debris and high water.”
Strautins has also visited the shores of the San Miguel River, between Sawpit and Placerville, and has liked what he’s seeing. “It looked like it was running high and fast, but everything was manageable,” he said. “The San Miguel was not in danger of overflowing its banks,” or broaching local buildings. “That was good to see.”
On Thursday, Strautins received more good news. “That’s interesting … that’s gone away. That’s gone away too,” he said. He was talking about the risk of flooding as he checked his computer (the local weather service appeared to have dropped several advisories since he’d been out of the office). Both the Gunnison River and the Colorado River had been in danger of flooding in certain places a couple of weeks ago. Yet at press time, no major rivers were poised to do that. Instead, a single advisory remained until 7 p.m. tonight (Friday): for Tomichi Creek, outside Gunnison.
At noon Thursday, the Tomichi was at 5.4 feet (the “bank-full” stage is 4.5 feet). Flood stage is 6.9 feet.
Forecast: “The river will continue to fall.”
As Strautins explained, “A flood advisory is for minor lowland flooding in fields and pastures. Maybe bikeways and walkways along the river will be impacted,” he said. “This is mainly to give you a heads-up. It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, the water is running high and fast. You need to be aware.’”
Of course, people recreating on rivers need to be particularly aware. “This would not be the time to go tubing,” Strautins said. “A lot of these rivers are running high and fast, and the water is cold. You need the proper equipment and skill level. You can get yourself in trouble real quick. You need a guide.”
Nor should novices be fishing along the banks of certain rivers. Said Tim Patterson, the owner of Ridgway’s RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service, “Dam-controlled resources, such as McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores, are the most accessible right now. And in those places, flows are controlled down to 1,000 cubic feet per second, which is optimal, and which will be sustained for the rest of the season.”
Dams are also where “some of the best hatches of the season” happen to be taking place.
Going forward, the fishing should only get better — and hopefully, the risk of flooding will fall even further.
“There’s still a chance of flooding. The potential decreases slowly as the snowmelt increases, but there’s still plenty of snow. So if we get heavy rains on top of the rivers, we could have a problem,” Strautins cautioned.
For that matter, heavy rains can always cause flooding, which is why, he said, “We’re always having to watch the monsoonal rains every year.”
“But I think in a week or two, if we haven’t had any issues by then, the snowmelt should be decreasing enough that we should be OK. And that should help us: It will put more room in the rivers so they can handle water from thunderstorms.”
“It’s been a very abnormal year, with these cooler temperatures and a prolonged runoff,” Patterson observed. “But it’s kind of a best-case scenario: it had the potential to be 90-degrees by now, and if that had happened, we could have had some flooding.”
“One certainly can’t complain,” he added, “after an epic drought year.”