river flowing high and fast

Water was flowing high and fast Saturday on the Uncompahgre River near the West Main Street bridge in Montrose. Large amounts of mountain snow runoff have made it dangerous for inexperienced people to recreate on the Gunnison as well as parts of the Uncompahgre. 

Mountain runoff has many areas on the Western Slope warning people to stay out of the rivers.

Citing public safety concerns, Gunnison County last Friday closed a portion of the Gunnison River known for recreation — between Almont and the Gunnison Whitewater Park — until further notice. The county also closed a portion of the Slate River — between Gunsight Pass Bridge and State Highway 135.

“As high as the waters are, if you’re not an experienced individual on the water, you shouldn’t be out there right now,” Gunnison County Sheriff John Gallowich said, about a day before sections of river were closed in the county.

He expected bridges to hold but said as debris comes down and gets caught up, there are safety issues.

Also, when water is too high, rafts and boats can get tied up on bridge columns.

Gallowich reiterated the need for expertise when it comes to navigating the Gunnison — not only are people who need rescued in danger, but swift water and search and rescue teams are risking their lives to save imperiled boaters and rafters.

Flow rates at the Gunnison Whitewater Park were at about 3,700 cubic feet per second when Gallowich spoke with the Montrose Daily Press. Monday, they were even higher at about 4,100 cubic feet per second, according to data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey. Water levels were up at about 7 feet Monday, a foot-and-a-half higher than just a week prior on June 3.

Further down the Gunnison River, in Delta County, there have been problems with flooding, but no formal closing of the river like in Gunnison County.

“I do know our parks department has signs up around the Confluence Park area,” said Jamie Head, Delta Police Department spokesperson, on Monday. “We do have some flooding concerns that so far are just affecting the trails and the river in the area.”

There are similar flooding problems outside Delta proper. Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor said there is some low level flooding in a farmer’s field off G50 Road.

The main concern, however, should be people looking to recreate in the waters, according to Taylor.

“My advice would be to stay off the river until the levels recede, but if they do go out there, they need to make sure they wear a life vest and use extreme caution,” Taylor said.

“There’s extreme water sports individuals that are totally into the high, fast water,” Head said. “But if you’re not experienced, just stay off the water. There are people that if you don’t have that experience, don’t get out and do it. You need to know what the dangers are.

Delta County and the City of Delta continue to monitor the high waters.

Problems not as severe on the Uncompahgre

Monday morning, City Parks and Special Projects Superintendent John Malloy visited city park properties.

“We did a sweep of the river corridor through town to make sure there weren’t any big trees, or big snags or big pile-ups of wood, which is one of the bigger hazards of the flood,” Malloy said. “Nothing was at risk that I saw.”

Malloy said the department will continue to monitor the water sports park everyday to ensure the structures are in good condition as well as to get rid of debris.

A majority of the water coming down is from Cow Creek, Malloy said. The water is the highest its been in five seasons, and the highest since the Montrose Water Sports Park was constructed.

“The river at this stage is a hazard — it’s swift, cold water with a lot of wood and debris,” Malloy said.

Cow Creek is woody, and in Ridgway there are logs, limbs and other wood that has made its way down through the drainage. As the water rises, it picks up those logs and brings them down river. Banks also get eroded in these circumstances.

“Connecting the People to their Parks and Recreation” project — a total of 2.25 miles of new trails, with underpasses, on both ends of town to safely connect more of the public with parks and recreational opportunities — has not been impacted. Those who are working on this project are working with the high flows at West Main Street, Malloy said. There is also a few sections of single track non-concrete trails West of Ogden River Bridge that are getting wet.

Last Thursday, Malloy said there were a group of youth at Riverbottom Park jumping into the river from the bridge in regular street clothes.

“It’s important that people take it seriously, if you get swept away in the river with no gear, you may not live,” Malloy said. “It’s not something to fool around with, for sure.”

Malloy said there’s not an instance in which the city would close the park

The city would not close the sports water park, as there is no way to simply fence off the river, but if the county or other officials feel there is a hazard they could issue a warning, Malloy said.

The river is not a place you want to go unless you are an advanced/ expert in that water sport you want to participate ing, Malloy said. This warning is especially for youth or those who have no reference as to what a fast flowing, flooded, snowmelt river can do, he added.

The difference between Montrose and surrounding areas is that Ridgway Reservoir helps to curtail some of the flooding on the Uncompahgre River and governs what is coming down to Montrose. The Gunnison Tunnel diversion also has a lot to do with how much comes through the Uncompahgre. A lot is dependent on what Cow Creek does, Malloy said.

In Montrose County

There are currently no flood warnings for Montrose County, Montrose County Emergency Manager Greg Fisher said. The runoff season is starting to kick in based on river gages and observation of creeks and stream

Montrose County is monitoring a few areas, but currently there’s no flooding Fisher said. These areas include along the major rivers and areas that have already seen flooding issues.

“Right now we’re looking pretty good,” Fisher said. “Hinsdale (County) has a lot more risk because of the avalanches that happened and the debris that’s in their creeks and rivers. As far as the region goes, I think right now they’re probably seeing the most risk in terms of flooding.”

Because of the Ridgway Reservoir, the Uncompahgre River managed well, Fisher said. The reservoir needs water, so it is not releasing a lot right now. Unless there is a risk, the county would not issue a warning for people to stay off the river, he added

“There is no immediate threat right now,” Fisher said. “I would say it’s pretty moderate risk for flooding in the areas throughout all of Western Colorado. I think Montrose County compared to many of our counties in the area tends to be a little less risky in terms of flooding. … It doesn’t keep us out of the loop, obviously, but it’s definitely a concern.”

The focus is on being ready and monitoring each situation. The county still encourages preparedness, Fisher said. The county still has the sandbag operation at the Montrose County fairgrounds. There has been about 750 bags have been filled.

Those who live in a flood-prone area such as flood plain, or by rivers or streams, should monitor the water levels and have a plan to evacuate if needed. Information can be found on the Montrose County Office of Emergency Management Facebook page.

“For us, it could be nothing this year, we could see flooding in certain areas, we just don’t know,” Fisher said. “Just asking everybody to stay prepared and keep monitoring things.”

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