Thursday, June 11, 2015

High Water Conditions in La Plata County

“If you don’t believe the weather changes frequently in Colorado, just look at La Plata County!” said Butch Knowlton, La Plata County Emergency Management Director. 
“During the winter months, low snowpack created concern for water users in La Plata County.  Today, officials from several agencies are monitoring high water conditions on several streams and rivers in La Plata County.” 

The unique weather caused by late season, heavy snow accumulation in the headwater areas of streams and rivers that pass through La Plata County have created significant flows in those waterways.  Officials have been monitoring, in particular, the Vallecito and Pine River drainage areas that flow into Vallecito Reservoir.  Lemon and Vallecito Reservoirs were nearing full capacity when the additional precipitation accumulated in the river basins above the reservoirs.  Consequently, operators of those two irrigation structures had to make room for the additional water by discharging large volumes of water out of the reservoirs.  This has led to significant flows downstream of the reservoirs.  Two tropical weather systems in June created significant increases to the inflows going into the reservoirs.  As a result, property owners below the reservoirs are experiencing larger water volumes in the Florida and Pine River as water is released to create additional retention capacity in the reservoirs.  These large, controlled discharges are intended to prevent larger, uncontrolled flooding out of the reservoirs. 

Some property owners downstream of Vallecito Reservoir have reported minor flooding and water in areas where there has been no water in recent years.  These high volume releases could continue, and possibly increase, for the next few days depending upon weather patterns and moisture accumulations in the headwater areas of the streams.  If rain falls on snow in the high elevations, it could cause a noticeable increase in the snowmelt resulting in high runoff into the streams.

“There has been an excellent multi-agency process that has brought many professionals to the table to observe and predict impacts from these conditions,” said Butch Knowlton, La Plata County Emergency Management Director.  “There is just not one expert that can address all of the issues that this type of event creates.  Therefore all of those people coming together to share their expertise and knowledge has been impressive, and very much appreciated.”

Some of the agencies coordinating the efforts include: Pine River Irrigation District, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Dam Safety Office in Denver, National Weather Service, NOAA, River Forecast Center (Salt Lake), Upper Pine Fire Protection District, Los Pinos Fire Protection District, Bayfield Marshal, CDRC Corps of Engineers, Southern Ute Tribal Officials, La Plata County Road and Bridge, La Plata County Office of Emergency Management and numerous ditch companies and water users.

No evacuations have been made and no County Roads have been closed.  County Road 322 is experiencing some flooding over the road near La Boca.  La Plata County and Road and Bridge crews are watching the conditions and are working to clear the roads.

The National Weather Service has placed La Plata County under a flash flood warning with the prediction of a low pressure area moving over the County causing more showers and thunderstorms this afternoon and possible storms through the weekend.  A flash flood warning means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding.  If flooding is observed, act quickly. Do not enter the water. Turn around and move up to higher ground. Do not stay in areas subject to flooding when water begins rising. 

Residents are asked to be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize the dangers of flooding.  Motorists are urged to drive slowly and carefully as they may encounter debris and mud on the roads.  Motorists should not drive into areas where the water covers the roadway. The water depth may be too great to allow a safe crossing.

A Call Center has been set up for the public at 970-385-8700.  The National Weather Service is the best source for weather updates.  Visit them online at  

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