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Water levels are high in Pinedale, but the peak is likely yet to come

White water rushes by a bank with trees.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Pine creek flows out of the dam from Fremont Lake and eventually through Pinedale.

On a rainy, overcast day, white water rushed over a dam from Fremont Lake into Pine Creek, just above the town of Pinedale. It normally is not this intense, but after a big snow year and almost non-stop rain, water levels are extremely high.

“You see how you could probably just kayak through it,” Jim Mitchell, Sublette County Emergency Management coordinator, said as he looked out at the town park where Pine Creek flows through. The normally green grass is flooded with water. “It's about a foot and a half deep.”

Much of the state has already seen peak water run-offs, but not Pinedale. A flood watch was issued earlier this week and has since been lifted, but according to Mitchell future risks remain.

“I mean, a lot of the areas on the east side of the state are done with their water, and they're into their growing season and summer stuff,” Mitchell said. “And we're [Pinedale] still waiting for the big push to maybe come.”

Normally, he said it would have come in mid-June. This year Mitchell said the town could likely see high water into August. He said this is because of a few things. A big winter, a wet spring and cooler temperatures. The spring rain has caused high water levels so far, but the cooler temperatures have kept a lot of snow in the mountains from melting. Meaning, if temperatures warm rapidly, there could be high water run-offs that could cause more flooding.

“We know that there's still snow up there,” Mitchell said. “But everything has to align [for a large run-off]. We have to have a warm day that we haven't had yet.”

Pinedale has not gotten out of the 60s this year. Mitchell said a 70 or 80 degree day in Pinedale, and 37 degree day above 10,000 feet in the mountains is the perfect, dangerous combination for extreme snow melt and flooding.

“All that snow has to be converted to a corn type, crystal slush. And then we can start to get water,” he said. “So I don't think we've seen the last of this. We're going to still have water coming out in considerable amounts.”

Mitchell said on a brighter note, all this water means huge things for drought. Pinedale sits at the headwaters of the Colorado River watershed, which 40 million people downriver depend on.

“This water is going down into the Green River system and filling Lake Powell,” he said. “They were going to put a call on water to pull more water from the irrigators and pull more water down the whole system into the Green River and the Colorado and that got postponed because of the snow that we had this year.”

Even though the town parks and some pathways have flooded, Mitchell said no houses have flooded yet that he knows of. He said there is still a lot of space for water to flood before it threatens homes. However, he noted that sandbags should be used as a last minute resort to prevent structural flooding.

“The best thing to do is to build a berm, have grass growing on it and use retaining wall type material,” Mitchell said. “Something that's more permanent. Sandbags aren't permanent – it's a temporary fix.”

As a precaution, Mitchell said kids and pets should not be near the overflowing rivers, as they could easily be swept away. You can find more information on flood forecasts and weather updates here.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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