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High Park Floods

Hello all,

After 3 weeks of road closures - I'm sure you, like us, are gettting tired of this pattern.  Unfortunatley, it is a pattern that is likely to continue.  I wanted to spend a little time explaining how this is working and what we (Larimer County and RCVFD) are doing to minimize the impact.  Often having a sense of what is going on will make life easier.  

For a sense of what you may expect - please review the High Park Flood Risk Migation information (Scroll down to the Flood Risk and Mitigation).  There is specific information for Rist Canyon there.

You may also want to visit the new Rain Gauge page - with live links to the rain gauges such as the one a Davis and Rist.

I'm also going to share some things we are changing to try to improve.

First - a word about yesterday's floods (7/28/13) 

Initially - I though we would be okay - the rain at my house and at the Rist/Davis guage was about 0.4 inches - just under a 2 year flood.  However, soon after the rain we were paged with notice of flooding in the canyon and the need to close Rist Canyon.

  • Important Point:  The peak water flow, particularly in the lower canyon, will hit after the rain.  In addition there can be multple water flow heads.  Yesterday - we were standing in bright sunshine watching large amounts of water and debris cross Rist Canyon in multiple locations.  

To illustrate this - I was sitting in RCVFD E611 at 9045 Rist Canyon Road watching the water in the creek start to decreease and return to the channel (off the road).  Suddenly I heard a new sound and looked in the mirror to see a new flow coming down the ditch on the north side of Rist Canyon and on the road.

 This was the first event where we had seen that.  The location I was unsafe and I immediately reversed up the canyon to a safe spot (thank goodness the road was closed and there was no traffic - I was traveling backwards relatively quickly.   All those years backing helped.)  I turned the engine around to try to make my way back up the canyon to find the source of this new flow and was immediately stopped by water of unknown depths - 2 ft or more - running down the road. Eventually I was able to work my way up the canyon nearly 3/4 miles to find the location where Rist Creek entered the road.  This new flow re-topped the culverts and actually caused more damage to the road than the initial flow.

  • Important Point: Hidden damage caused by water erroding under the pavement is can be treacherous.  You can be driving over what looks like safe pavement and go through.

For a summary - during yesterday's flood - the worst we have had - water was over Rist Canyon Road in numerous places from Davis Ranch to the bottom of the canyon.  The water carried debris - large debris - boulders - throughout the flow and deposited mud and silt throughout.  Even long after the rain stopped, the flow was over the road.

What to expect during a flood.

Here is what to expect in a flood event.

  • Rist Canyon will close in the lower canyon - usually below Davis Ranch.
  • The road will close at Stove Prairie, Davis Ranch and the base of the canyon.  
    • Note: Depending on road conditions, we may let local traffic in a Stove Prairie if you live betwen Stove Prairie and Davis Ranch.
  • Poudre Canyon wil often also close - so traffic cannot be diverted there.
  • Buckhorn Canyon - so far - has stayed open.
  • The road will remain closed till we can verify the roadbead is not damaged and we can clear enough debris to make it passable.
  • RCVFD will attempt to contact houses in the closed area to make sure everybody is safe.
  • Important point:  In Rist Canyon - the debris flows typically span several miles.  These are not "mud slides" that close a short portion - but debris stretching over several miles.

What are we doing to improve response.

  • Like all things - we get better with practice.
  • For instance, Yesterday RCVFD worked with road and bridge to clear 1 lane quickly rather than wait for 2 lanes.  We (RCVFD) then started escorted traffic up and down the canyon using that one lane.  This got traffic flowing probably 30 minutes earlier. Note - this is a resource intensive effort by Rist Canyon VFD - so we may or may not be able to pull that off quickly.  As always- our primary focus is safety of the responders and public.
  • We are initiating response more quickly - both RCVFD and Larimer County.  Larimer County Road and bridge is pre-positioning equipment.
In summary:
  • These flood events are part of life post fire and we all need to work together to try to manage them.
  • The floods we have had in the last 3 weeks are not huge storms.  A very large storm will make it much worse.  See the flood analysis.
  • Patience will be required.  When the water is flowing there is nothing we can do but wait till it clears and then check the road.
  • RCVFD - just like you - is motivated to get the road open.  Remember - we are volunteers and want to get home just as much as everybody else - so we working to open that road as fast as we can.
Respectfully submitted - 
Bob Gann
Fire Cheif, RCVFD.

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