Community teamwork helped minimize damage when the Pine River broke its banks Monday and sent water toward LePlatt’s Pond.
The river changed course when its bank was damaged by a tree that fell into the river. The flow change caused LePlatt’s Pond water levels to increase and the dike to become unstable. Emergency services repaired the dike before any pond water could overflow into surrounding areas, including Riverside RV Park. Work was ongoing to reinforce the dike.
“The sandbags should hold. We reinforced it with some logs,” said Bruce Evans, Upper Pine River Fire Protection District chief. “We’re pretty confident that it’s going to hold for now, as long as, like the old Johnny Cash song says, ‘God willing that the river don’t rise.’”
The fire district began receiving reports about the water flowing onto LePlatt’s dike area Monday night. The river was flowing between 1,500 and 1,600 cubic feet per second Monday and Tuesday and continued to flow at 1,580 cfs Wednesday, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. Its mean flow rate is 31 cfs based on the USGS 19-year average.
Upper Pine fire, the town of Bayfield, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Riverside RV Park and multiple property owners near the pond sent almost 20 people in response. Crews began identifying where they could relieve some of the pressure on the pond Monday and reinforced the damaged dike with sandbags and other materials Tuesday, Evans said.
The Colorado Department of Water Resources also changed water flow through King Ditch, which decreased river flow by a few inches, Evans said.
If the dike had broken completely, the force of the Pine River would have started flowing into the pond. “It probably would’ve taken about 20 to 30 minutes for the pond to be overfilled, and then it would have started putting water into Riverside RV Park,” Evans said. That scenario could have caused ankle-deep water in the RV site outside of its normal drainage channels and a “very hurried” evacuation, he said, based on his understanding of how the river would divert through the pond.
“This one was just a little bit different. No one would’ve expected that cottonwood tree to change the erosion pattern of the river,” said Mack Coker, owner of Riverside RV.
The park has been open since the 1980s. It has seen high-flow periods up to 3,000 cfs, and it has never been flooded or needed an evacuation, Coker said. Park management and staff had a meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the damage to the levee and what staff would need to do if the situation worsened. They use a door-to-door notification system and have been “gently” spreading the word to visitors to stay out of the water.
“The impact on the RV park is something that is extremely manageable,” Coker said. “Our elevations are such that water would flow away from the RV site.”
Coker, who helped with dike repair and is an Upper Pine fire board member, said the damage could have been worse if it weren’t for good communication lines, teamwork and quick action of the many entities involved.
“Everybody dived in the middle of it. And every one of them are pros – they’re not amateurs coming at it,” he said.