Officials from several agencies continued to monitor high water conditions on several streams and rivers in La Plata County today. These conditions were brought on by the late season, heavy snow accumulation in the headwaters of streams and rivers that pass through La Plata County and two tropical weather systems this month that created significant increases to the inflows going into the reservoirs.
In particular, the Vallecito and Pine River drainage areas that flow into Vallecito Reservoir have been closely monitored today. 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. As a result, property owners below the reservoirs are experiencing larger water volumes in the Florida and Pine Rivers 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. These high volume releases could continue, and possibly increase, for the next few days depending upon weather patterns and moisture accumulations and upper elevation temperatures 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.
The National Weather Service has downgraded the flash flood warning to a flash flood watch in La Plata County. A flash flood watch means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding. Today, .34 inches of rain fell at Lemon dam, but areas north of the dam received more rainfall. Rainfall is expected to be minimal after midnight tonight and then more moisture is anticipated Friday afternoon.
No evacuations have been made, but some property owners downstream of Vallecito Reservoir have reported minor flooding and water in areas where there has been no water in recent years. Upper Pine Fire Protection District has been working to sandbag at-risk homes along the Pine River and Upper Pine and officials have been constantly monitoring bridges for debris.
County Road 322 had some flooding over the road near La Boca this morning, but it is now clear. No other significant issues have been reported on other County Roads, but 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. If flooding is observed, act quickly. Do not enter the water. Turn around and move up to higher ground.
“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, Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, 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 Sheriff’s Department, La Plata County Search and Rescue, and numerous ditch companies and water users.
A Call Center has been set up for the public at 970-385-8700 and will be open until 8:00 p.m. tonight. The National Weather Service is the best source for weather updates. Visit them online at www.weather.gov/.