High water in Pagosa Country


Staff Writer

The weather forecast has been easy to predict lately in Pagosa Country: rain.

And while the southwestern portion of the state has received rainfall amounts nowhere near those experienced on the Front Range, the storms have caused damage in Archuleta County.

Much of the damage has come in the form of flash floods that fill and clog culverts and spill onto roadways, though two roads were washed out.

On the evening of Sept. 12, waters from Sambrito Creek, reportedly 8 to 10 feet deep, washed out Cox Circle, a private road near Arboles, on the southern edge of Archuleta County, stranding residents of eight properties.

The next day, a temporary patch was put into place to allow access, but another storm washed out the road in less than 24 hours, said resident Christy Gotchall.

With Archuleta County statutorily prohibited from working on the private road, property owners met Monday night to decide what should be done, Gotchall said.

Following that meeting, the residents contacted a firm that provided the residents with a 6-foot diameter culvert at a discount to replace their failed culvert, and is allowing the residents to make payments, Gotchall said.

That culvert was installed Tuesday and blocked in place, but Wednesday’s rainstorm again overwhelmed the culvert and effectively stranded the residents for the third time in a week during the flash flood event.

“It’s not a little creek when this water passes through it,” Gotchall said, noting that storm runoff comes from storms that hit in La Plata County, asking, “Is there some place that some of this water can be directed?

“Other than putting in a bridge, I can’t imagine what else will be able to handle this much water,” Gotchall said. (Anyone interested in helping the residents of Cox Circle can call Gotchall at 883-4663 or e-mail christy@gotchall.com.)

The other washed-out road was Forest Road 640, which accesses Williams Creek Reservoir. That washout occurred Sept. 14, and temporarily isolated a number of U.S. Forest Service campgrounds.

Temporary repairs were made immediately, the more permanent repairs following.

Archuleta County Road and Bridge crews are also working to clear debris from roads in the area of County Road 500 that have been hit by flash flood events.

Public Works Director Ken Feyen said the county, to date, has spent about $119,000 on flash flood repair work.

Feyen said county crews have been working on flash flood repair for about 60 days.

But the picture might be getting a little brighter.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service’s seven-day forecast showed more sunny days than rainy, with temperatures in the lower to mid 70s.

River levels

In addition to damaging area roads, the recent storms have also caused the San Juan and Piedra rivers to swell, with both rivers running well over their normal (average) levels.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, the San Juan River stream gauge in Pagosa Springs measured the river at 1,300 cubic feet per second (cfs).

That level is considered high, at 1,383 percent of the normal (average) flow for the day.

At 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, that gauge read 1,490 cfs. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, the flow was down to 685 cfs.

Those numbers, however, are below what was seen during the spring runoff, which peaked at 1,630 cfs on May 25.

The highest recorded peak discharge for the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs happened Oct. 5, 1911, with 25,000 cfs recorded.

The San Juan River near Carracas, located in the southwestern portion of Archuleta County, was running at 743 cfs as of 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, down from a peak of 1,770 cfs at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 13.

The Sept. 13 peak discharge is the highest for the river in the last year, though far lower than the Sept. 6, 1970, record discharge, which topped 9,000 cfs.

The Piedra River, too, has seen swells from the monsoonal moisture, measured at 1,070 cfs near Navajo Lake Wednesday morning at about 8:15 a.m.

That flow is considered 870 percent of the normal median flow for the river on the day.

That number is down from a peak of 2,380 cfs that occurred at about 2 p.m. on Sept. 15 — the highest recorded discharge within the last year.

That number, too, is much less than the record discharge recorded on Sept. 6, 1970, which was measured at 8,370 cfs.

Flood preparedness

The following information was provided by the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, Division of Emergency Management.

During monsoonal rain events, the Archuleta County area regularly sees the following:

• Increase in river heights.

• Small rock and mud slides.

• Debris flows on to roads.

• Flash floods.

These are more likely to occur in areas near canyons.

In the event of adverse weather, the following is advised:

• Immediately climb to higher ground if you think it is going to flood.

• Stay out of canyon bottoms when it is raining.

• Review information on Colorado flood readiness, which can be found at www.readycolorado.com/hazard/flood.

• Never drive on a road that is covered by water or mud.

If the county’s emergency management personnel become concerned, they, along with the National Weather Service, will issue special statements or warnings.

This may include, but is not limited to, using the County’s Emergency Call Back System (you can register at www.acemergency.org or in person at the sheriff’s office), the National Emergency Alert System (radio and TV), the county’s emergency Twitter feed (@ac_emergency), www.acemergency.org, and door-to-door notification.