Rain, warm weather brings flooding, washouts

The Okanogan River - about a mile south of Tonasket - experiences minor flooding last week as warm weather increased snowpack melting and runoff.

CONCONULLY – Rain and warming temperatures unleased a new wave of flooding and road washouts in Okanogan and Ferry counties during the past week.

The Conconully area took another hit as water poured off the surrounding mountains and into the west and north forks of Salmon Creek. Conconully Reservoir filled past capacity, with water rushing down the spillway and into Salmon Creek.

From there, the water raced down the canyon and eventually through Okanogan to meet the Okanogan River.

The North Fork flooded some on Friday, May 5, after an overnight thunderstorm. City officials worked with residents and sandbagged several areas.

On the West Fork, a couple privately owned bridges were damaged, said Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall. A bridge was damaged at milepost 2.11 on West Fork Salmon Creek Road, and another in the same area was damaged but repaired.

Okanogan Irrigation District already was spilling 350 cubic feet per second into the creek below the reservoir, but couldn’t keep up with the flow. An estimated 700 cfs is going over the spillway, Goodall said.

Salmon Creek Road was closed for a time between Happy Hill Road and the Conconully Highway because the water overtopped a bridge. Okanogan County Public Works crews diverted the water back into the creek; some damage was done to the road, but the bridge was not damaged, Goodall said.

Downstream, several pastures were flooded and water flooded Salmon Creek Road in the area of the former Copple farm. The diversion dam near the intersection of Salmon Creek and Spring Coulee roads also was over-topped.

Although irrigation officials planned to turn on irrigation water to customers this week, that probably won’t put a dent in the amount of water going downstream, Goodall said.

An estimated 800 cfs was in the creek as it roared through Okanogan; the creek bed – which often is dry – can handle about 900 cfs.

County officials responded to various reports of flooding, mostly in the north part of the county.

Ninemile Creek off Thorndike Loop Road flooded a field, an RV park and three homes, but apparently didn’t do serious damage, Goodall said. The creek was channeled back into Lake Osoyoos.

Loomis-Oroville Road received some mud and Toroda Creek, east of Tonasket, took out a driveway.

Sinlahekin Road is closed between Conconully, where a slide occurred last month, and milepost 16.79 south of Loomis in the Blue/Forde lakes area. The road is washed out in several places.

Goodall said some people, including campers, are ignoring “road closed” signs and putting themselves in danger.

He said he found campers in the Sinlahekin who had gone around a closure sign, then became stranded after the road washed out during Thursday night’s thunderstorm.

The Forest Service said several campers were temporarily stranded when a mud and debris slump caused by rains from the thunderstorm blocked vehicle access on U.S. Forest Service Road 38, North Fork Salmon Creek Road, two miles northwest of town.

Access to several Forest Service campgrounds north of town will remain closed until the area can be checked out and stabilized.

“The mud and debris slide was approximately 200 yards wide and five to six inches deep of rock, mud and debris,” Tonasket District Ranger Matt Reidy said Friday morning. “Our thanks go to Okanogan County for assistance in clearing a path with a road grader that allowed campers who were stuck above the debris slump to drive out.

“We have closed the road for safety reasons and are advising campers to leave the area. With more rain anticipated over the next several days there is a chance that more debris may come down to block the road again.”

Reidy is advising the people to use caution when traveling roads on the National Forest. Over the past six months, record-setting moisture has saturated soils and many areas are prone to failure. In certain locations spring runoff has caused damage to road surfaces, ditches and culverts. 

Water also was reported over the road in the Aeneas Valley.

In the Methow Valley, Upper Beaver Creek Road is closed from Balky Hill Road to Highway 20 at milepost 207.

The road is damaged, Goodall said.

He said the rain did not do further damage to Highway 20, which has been closed for several weeks between Rock Creek on the east side of Loup Loup Pass and Upper Beaver Creek on the west. The road has washed out in several places.

Crews hired by the state are working to repair the damage.

Goodall cautioned people about going around road closure signs.

“They’re there for a reason,” he said. “Be aware water’s moving and the ground is soft.”

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers echoed Goodall.

“We have not been swamped but we have been getting calls of water over the roadway, mudslides closing roads and debris on the roadway,” Rogers said Monday morning. “And the way the weather is going, I could see us having to deal with this for another month or two.”

“If you see running water across a roadway, do not drive through it,” he said. “It doesn’t take that much moving water to move a vehicle. And a bigger concern, which we have been seeing, is that the road is gone where the water is running, so you basically end up driving into a ditch, or worse.”

“So, bottom line is don’t drive across water; it is not worth the risk.”

Aside from the possibility of becoming stranded or getting swept into a creek, folks who venture into closed areas – especially on the closed section of the Loup – could run into heavy equipment. The crew working on Highway 20 has reported coming across motorists who entered the closed section via forest roads.

The road is unstable in places and the heavy equipment is large and operators are working under the assumption they have the whole road to themselves, Goodall said.

“We’re asking people to please stay off,” he said.

Information was not available for damage on the Colville Indian Reservation, although water from No Name Creek was flooding the area between Paschal Sherman Indian School and the north beach area of Omak Lake.

A few scattered fire reports came in during the thunderstorm but did not spark any fires, Goodall said.

According to Lightning Maps.org, between midnight and 6 a.m. Friday, May 5, more than 250 lightning strikes hit Okanogan County, with 187 hitting the northern portion of the county.

The heavy rain, thunder and lightning brought several power outages to the region, too.

“There were scattered outages north of Omak on Saturday, up Highway 20 towards Aeneas Tunk, Palmer lake area,” said tim DeVries, Okanogan County PUD director of engineering and pperations. “These were likely remnants of the lightning storm that passed through the area on Thursday evening.

“Typically lightning storms will cause immediate damage/outages and also weaken equipment that fails later on.”

It was a similar situation north of the international border.

Last week the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre issued a boil water notice because of turbidity in Okanogan Lake, meanwhile shoring work with heavy equipment continues on the south bank side of Testalinden Creek below Highway 97 in rural Oliver.

The Keremeos Fire Department has been delivering sandbags to rural Keremeos, Cawston and parts of Similkameen areas.

“The problem we’re going to have for (Osoyoos) as well is that the Tulameen is rising now — the water is rising there,” RDOS Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch told Canadian media last week. “We’re going to have to keep a close eye on the Similkameen to see what it’s doing.”

As of Sunday, the Okanogan River south of Tonasket at Janis Bridge was experiencing minor flooding at 14.98 feet. Comparatively, the Okanogan River crested at 22.54 feet at Janis Bridge in during the floods of 1972, and 21.79 feet in 1948.

The Simlkameen River near Nighthawk was estimated at 11.23 feet as of Sunday.

In Ferry County, the Kettle River in Ferry County was at major flood stage Saturday at 20.67 feet. The National Weather Service said major flooding stage begins at 20.5 feet. The record for the Kettle River 21.1 feet.

People can learn about flooding potential this afternoon during the Okanogan County Emergency Management flood meeting.

The event, which features National Weather Service spring predictions, will be at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room of the Grainger Administration Building, 123 N. Fifth Ave., Okanogan.

Those attending can re-establish partnerships, learn how agencies can support each other, review emergency response capabilities and available resources, and learn from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about weather prediction.

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