River hits second crest; a third is anticipated

Debris backs up against the Central Avenue bridge in Omak

Photo by Al Camp
Debris backs up against the Central Avenue bridge in Omak

— A second crest of the Okanogan River came and went over the weekend, with levels not as high as predicted.

A third, still-smaller crest is expected this weekend.

Officials with the state Type 3 incident management team overseeing the flood fight say they’re starting to demobilize crews brought in to help local communities. Three of 10 crews were released Saturday morning, May 19, leaving 150 people assigned to flood response.

Hundreds more volunteers from the Okanogan Valley continue to participate in the flood fight.

Okanogan Valley residents have been sloshing around in floodwaters for more than two weeks, furiously filling sandbags, building berms and shoring up existing dikes. Melting snow from the high Canadian mountains is contributing much of the water, although there has been rain during the past couple weeks.

The second crest was expected to be higher than the first, which saw the Okanogan River’s level at 19.71 feet on May 12 at Janis bridge south of Tonasket. Late last week the National Weather Service revised predictions.

According to weather service figures, the river crested at 19.3 feet on May 19 and by Monday it was at 17.52 feet.

The May 12 crest marked the third-highest level at the site in recorded history. The highest was 22.54 feet in 1972, with the second-highest at 21.79 feet in 1948. Flood stage is 15 feet.

Predictions now call for another crest May 28 at 18.41 feet at Janis.

Although water levels appear to be mostly receding, Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall warns not to pull back sandbags yet.

“Currently the Okanogan River waters are lower than expected, although they are projected to rise again over the next several days,” he said. “With this in mind, we are asking for residents to please … not remove any sandbags until we inform you that the river levels have stabilized and we are out of danger from cresting waters.”

Dike inspections and water seepage watches are ongoing.

“Efforts are now focused on monitoring the effectiveness of flood control measures, responding to any leaks that arise and ensuring the continued stability of levees,” said the state management team.

The ground is extremely saturated and may be unstable in areas, the team said.

The Okanogan River remains closed to all recreational use by order of Sheriff Frank Rogers.

Trouble spots remain in the Oroville area, where many properties remain under water; Tonasket, with Parry’s Acres sewer system threatened, and North Second Avenue in Okanogan, where water has sloshed out of the river into Legion Park and threatened the area north of the park. Water also seeped through the dike just north of downtown.

Sandbagging, riprap, berms and pumping have been used to help in those areas, said Goodall.

Okanogan’s North Second Avenue, which had been closed for more than a week, reopened early Sunday morning, May 20.

Even after the river crests again, water is expected to remain for a time, Goodall said.

Flooded areas have so much water already “and it keeps coming (so) that the ground, dike and levees are just totally saturated,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

His office has fielded plenty of calls from people with water leaking into basements, but so far there have been no major evacuations or rescues.

A few people have self-evacuated, Goodall said, and the Colville Confederated Tribes issued evacuation advisories to homes within Brooks Tracts, just outside Omak, plus four homes along Omak-Riverside Eastside Road and four in Malott.

“Crews working with community volunteers have filled and laid approximately 200,000 sandbags along the river throughout Okanogan County to protect critical infrastructure and homes,” said the management team.

State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visited the county Sunday to view the flood response effort.

“I’m just so impressed and thankful for these people,” said 7th District Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. “We always tend to depend on local volunteers to step up … to make a difference. We had much better coordination with other agencies coming in. They had such a humble approach: ‘How can we fit in, how can we help you?’”

“I have been closely monitoring the flooding in Okanogan County,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-4th District. “I am pleased to hear that locals are coming together to help one another, and I stand ready to help in any way I can. Thank you to all of the teams and volunteers that are keeping communities safe.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, Okanogan County and several cities declared states of emergency.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pump was used to remove water that was threatening five homes in the Oroville area. There’s also been plenty of sandbagging, and the city made contingency plans in case flooding worsens, Goodall said.

In Tonasket area, riprap was placed on the east side of the river to protect the Parry’s Acres sewage system. The mobile home park is outside the city, but feeds its sewage into the city system.

Farther south, the River Loop Road area has been a concern, as has Highway 97 at milepost 326, north of town, and at milepost 313.3 south of town. At the former, berms were build on the southbound shoulder. “Super sack” sandbags were placed at the latter.

North of Riverside, an east side dike failed and water spilled into fields. A couple houses were sandbagged. On the west side, the flood control district built up the dike to keep water from entering town.

Omak has experienced some ground seepage, but the dike system – built after the 1972 flood – is holding well, city officials said.

Okanogan continues to have seepage problems just north of downtown and high water problems in the 1300-1600 block near Legion Park, the Okanogan County Historical Museum, D&D Auto and OK Tire Factory.

A few areas in the Malott area and southward also are experiencing flooding, Goodall said.

Salmon Creek’s flow has abated somewhat from levels the week of May 7, as has the Chewuch River in the upper Methow Valley. The Methow River has eroded an area in the Mazama area on U.S. Forest Service land; riprap was placed there to stabilize the area.

The Okanogan County Public Utility District continues to monitor Enloe Dam, west of Oroville on the Similkameen River.

Flow over the dam this year, so far, was approximately 32,300 cubic feet per second, said PUD Interim Manager Don Coppock, quoting U.S. Geological Survey data.

The record was in 1972 at 45,700 cfs. In 1948, the then-record was 36,000 cfs.

On the sandbagging front, students from Oroville, Tonasket, Omak and Okanogan schools spent days filling sandbags, as have other community volunteers.

Goodall praised the volunteers for stepping up to fill the bags and to feed the volunteers.

“The school activity has been great,” he said. “The community has been stepping up.”

Okanogan Valley Concrete donated sand and labor, although Goodall said it’s possible a deal may be worked out for some payment.

It’s not yet known how much damage has been done, since most flooded areas remain inundated, Goodall said.

People should keep track of volunteer hours spent on protecting infrastructure, he said. The county may be able to seek federal reimbursement for local money and volunteer time spent.

Goodall said his office is “working on a process” for people to dispose of sand and sandbags once the flood danger has subsided. Sandbags should not be left in place or allowed to sit and rot, he said.

On May 17, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Okanogan because of expected severe thunderstorms.

The Okanogan Valley received rain overnight and into Friday, May 18, but no flash flooding was reported. Areas of particular concern are those burned during the 2014, 2015 and other recent years’ wildfires, Goodall said.

Several roads remain closed because of flooding. An interactive map showing them is at www.okanogandem.org.

Northern Ferry County also has been hard hit by flooding.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he would visit that county today, May 23.


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