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Pitkin County Blog

Posted on: May 9, 2023

Are you high water ready?

Mudslide on Highway 133 in Redstone in 2019

Image caption: Hwy 133 was closed at the entrance to Redstone in 2019 due to mudslides.

A Q&A with Valerie MacDonald, Pitkin County Emergency Manager

In mid-April, the snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed was the highest it's been at that time since 2019. As the snow in the mountains begins to melt, what should people in Pitkin County be considering? 

People should be thinking about possible flooding and debris flows. If you’re a property owner in an area prone to high water, please consider whether your flood insurance is active and up-to-date. Also, have you taken steps to prepare your property for flooding with berms and sandbags, for example? We’ve put together a list of local hardware stores that sell sand and sandbags. 

In addition, have you moved your belongings to higher ground and are you prepared to evacuate or move to higher ground, if time permits? It’s a good idea to pre-plan with your family and identify where you would go if you needed to evacuate. Keep in mind you may need to shelter in place if debris flows block your exit. Also, keep essentials, like medications, in various locations – like home, work, and in your car. You don’t know where you will be if the entrance to your home is blocked.

The county uses the Pitkin Alert system to distribute emergency messages like flood warnings. If you haven’t already, sign up for Pitkin Alert or receive messages in Spanish, or many other languages, with the free ReachWell app that you can download on your smartphone.

Is spring runoff season different this year compared to a typical year given the large snowpack? 

We normally deal with the same issues in high water years – flooding and debris flows. That said, you don't know where it's going to happen.

When it comes to the effects of high water and flooding, what areas in the county are most vulnerable? 

This is difficult to predict, though the National Weather Service told emergency officials in early April that the Crystal River Valley may have large impacts. The prediction then was that the Crystal River this year could see its seventh highest flow on record. People can visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to better understand the types of flood risk in their area. In the end, the weather determines whether there will be flooding and if so, what areas will be most affected. 

Flooding was threatening homes in the nearby community of Parachute in Garfield County. Last week, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported Parachute Creek was the highest it had been in nearly 50 years.

The Pitkin County Public Safety Council is urging the public to protect their property now against potential high water this spring. Local governments are encouraging property owners to begin preparing now for the possibility of spring flooding. Local governments are responsible for assisting in protecting public infrastructure, including facilities, culverts, roads, and bridges. Protection of private property is the responsibility of the property owner, and local governments will not respond to private property flooding concerns unless a life safety situation exists. 

We hope for a long slow runoff so the water doesn't come down all at once. Again it's all weather dependent but everyone needs to prepare for the worst case scenario now.

Don’t forget about wildfire potential…

Now is the time to prepare for wildfire season. May is Wildfire Preparedness Month, a time to learn how to prepare and protect your home and family from the dangers of wildfire. Visit to find emergency preparedness tips, information on protecting your home and getting a wildfire risk assessment.

Wildfires can develop and spread quickly, leaving little time to get somewhere safe. Know what to do to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe and take steps now to protect your future.

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