Friday, August 8, 2014

Storms bring relief and washouts

Burned areas remain vulnerable to erosion

Express Staff Writer

A Forest Service road crew has been laying down stone across Warm Springs Road to repair a section near Frenchmanís Bend Hot Springs damaged by last summerís Beaver Creek Fire. A local resident, left, gets information Wednesday as to when sheíll be able to drive across. Photo by Roland Lane

    Though storms that began in late July brought welcome rain to the Wood River Valley at the end of an otherwise hot and dry month, rain pounding on hillsides denuded by the Beaver Creek Fire has taken its toll.
     A closure of upper Warm Springs Road was reinstated Aug. 1 after several of the 56 culverts installed by U.S. Forest Service crews following the fire last August got plugged by washouts. A gate has been installed just past the confluence with the South Fork of Warm Springs Creek, 13.5 miles from the end of the pavement.
    “Given the unstable nature of the road, we decided let’s keep it closed during these thunderstorm cycles,” Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said.
    Nelson said a washout down Barr Gulch, near Castle Creek about three miles downstream from the South Fork confluence, brought 6- to 8-foot mound of shale across the road that follows the lower part of the creek. He said the shale was used to repair a quarter-mile section of road near Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs damaged by washouts since the fire.
    “Since it was in the road and we had the need for some shale, it made for a pretty easy road repair,” he said.
    Nelson said the thunderstorms have been very spotty, with some drainages getting hit hard and others remaining dry.
    He said a crew went to check out the Baker Creek drainage, over the ridge to the north of Warm Springs Creek, but found little damage, other than a washout down Cunard Creek in the upper part of the drainage.
    According to precipitation data collected at the Ketchum Ranger Station, rain has fallen on every day but two since the wet weather began July 29.
    Elizabeth Padian, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello, said the storms were initially the result of a typical late-summer monsoon pattern, in which a high-pressure system sits over the Four Corners area and pushes moisture to the north.
    “Depending where that high is located will determine where the moisture goes and now far north it gets,” she said.
    Padian said this week’s rains were caused by a low-pressure wave that began in the Gulf of California and moved northeast.
    “That moisture was just sitting in the gulf, and the low-pressure was able to transport it directly to us,” she said.
    Padian said the low-pressure system has moved past to the northeast, and the region is back to its typical monsoon pattern. She said there’s still a good chance of mountain thunderstorms for the next week.
    Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the Idaho office of the Natural Conservation Service, said the rains did not supply enough water to bring reservoir levels up, though they helped green up pastures. He said most farmers in south-central Idaho are done irrigating for the season. Outflow from Magic Reservoir was shut off on July 19.

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