- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Rivers and streams in central and western Wyoming are receding after melting snowpack poured the equivalent of at least 30 inches (76 centimeters) of water down mountains over the last several weeks, causing widespread flooding, interrupting travel on a route to Yellowstone National Park and cutting irrigation water to farms.

But thanks to a lot of preparation work for the annual runoff, flood damage appears to be limited to mostly roads and some outbuildings, officials said Wednesday.

“Generally when we’re proactive and do the pre-work ahead we don’t end up with as much damage,” said Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Kathi Metzler.

Preparations began in January when snow was piling up in record amounts, Metzler said.

Officials warn that rivers and streams are still running high and remain dangerous. A heavy rainstorm could quickly send them over their banks.

“It’s going to stay moderate to high at least a couple or three more weeks,” said Jim Fahey, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Riverton.

The Green River in southwest Wyoming and the Bighorn River at Worland were still near flood stage this week.

Fahey said this year’s runoff was notable for high flows in several river basins, including the Green, Wind, Snake and South Fork of the Shoshone rivers.

“It was historical for quite a few basins,” he said.

The Snake River Basin in the Jackson Hole region of northwest Wyoming hadn’t seen such high flows since 1997, he said.

The Wind River at Riverton set a record crest of just over 12 feet (4 meters), breaking the old record of 11.8 feet (3.6 meters) set in 2011.

Flooding along the Wind sent water over U.S. 26 west of Riverton, forcing its closure for about five days over a two-week period. The highway is one of the routes leading to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in northwest Wyoming. Detours because of the flooding added about a half hour to U.S. 26 travelers heading to the parks.

Elsewhere in the state, runoff triggered landslides and falling rock that damaged roads and impeded traffic.

The Wind River flooding also breached an irrigation canal west of Riverton.

Scott McFarland, water commissioner for the Riverton Valley Irrigation District, said it will cost an estimated $2.5 million to repair the irrigation canal, which serves more than 50 farmers and about 9,000 acres (3,500 hectares) of farmland in the area.

McFarland said the farmers depend on the water to irrigate crops and every day it is out of service means potential damage to row crops, such as corn, beans and sugar beets, that need the water.

It’s hoped that water can be available to farmers sometime this weekend, he said.

McFarland noted that if the river had not breached the canal the water likely would have caused massive flooding in Riverton. The canal runs through the heart of the city and the flood waters would have reached Riverton if not for breaching the canal and then dumping back into the Wind River before it reached the city limits.

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