Worst flood in 45 years sweeps valley

A barn south of Ellisforde off county Highway 7 sits submerged in water Saturday afternoon.

TONASKET — Okanogan Valley residents breathed a collective sigh of relief as Okanogan River water began receding Sunday, but they also began girding themselves for an even higher crest at the end of this week.

The river peaked at 19.21 feet Friday, May 11, at Janis bridge, south of Tonasket, and dropped on Monday to 18.28 feet. Flood stage is 15 feet.

However, the river level began climbing upward again and is expected to peak Saturday, May 19, at 21.38 feet. That’s less than half a foot below the second-highest recorded level at Janis, 21.79 feet in 1948. The highest was 22.54 feet in 1972.

From May 7-12, the river steadily rose, spilling over its banks in several locations up and down the valley.

So far, there have been no injuries, said Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall.

Salmon Creek in Conconully provided the first area of concern, as the runoff-swollen creek spilled out of its banks. Volunteers and a heavy equipment crew hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built up the banks and sandbagged heavily along the creek last week.

On Wednesday, Okanogan High School students Brendan Warren and Eric Lind – both members of the Okanogan Fire Department – helped in Conconully.

As of Friday morning, 14 students had checked out of Okanogan High School to fill sandbags, with some placing bags at a Malott home. Senior English classes were released to fill bags at Okanogan Valley Concrete, said secretary Teri Ewer.

The school also created a “flood team” of students who offered to be on call to move historical items out of the Okanogan County Historical Museum if needed. The museum sits next to the river at the north end of Legion Park.

Omak High School was prepared to release students for flood, said district spokeswoman Sheila Corson.

“We have families in our district who are protecting their homes and properties right now,” she said.

Staff also will be allowed to leave to protect their homes.

The softball team filled sandbags Thursday evening.

In Conconully, the creek, which normally flows placidly through town, was a torrent of muddy water that overtopped the Broadway Street bridge. Water also sloshed against the Lake Street bridge and ran through yards and driveways in town.

Water flowed into Conconully Reservoir and right back out, turning lower Salmon Creek into a muddy mass of water as it coursed down the valley and into Okanogan. Rocks in the normally dry lower reaches could be heard clacking together as they were dislodged by the water.

Water from the Okanogan River became a lake south of Oroville as the Cordell area slipped under water at mid-week. Areas along Highway 7, between Tonasket and Oroville, also were flooded, as was much of the east side of the river in the Riverside area.

A dike upstream from Riverside failed, sending more water into low-lying pastures. Sandbagging efforts kept a couple houses from becoming inundated.

Volunteers spent most of Friday and Saturday sandbagging on North Second Avenue in Okanogan as water seeped through the dike around the 500 block.

State mobilization was requested Saturday in hopes that outside crews could give local firefighters and other volunteers a rest before the next crest, said Goodall. Instead of mobilization, the state Department of Natural Resources sent a Type 3 Interagency Incident Management to coordinate flood response in close partnership with cities, the county and the state’s Emergency Management Division.

The arrangement is working well, giving over-tired local firefighters and others a rest, and making sure requests for assistance are addressed.

DNR is working with the state Department of Corrections and Washington Conservation Corps for manpower.

“When any Washingtonian is threatened, we must all heed the call,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “I want the families affected by the flooding to know that we stand with them and we will do everything we can to help.”

Goodall said the Oroville-Tonasket area, while experiencing flooding, is holding its own, as is Riverside. A dike on the town side of the river was built up in anticipation of this weekend’s higher water.

Lake Osoyoos, which normally has a level around 913 feet, swelled to 917.5 feet. Oroville Veterans Memorial Park was flooded and berms were placed to stop the water’s advance into town.

Loomis-Oroville Road around Palmer Lake was inundated.

Omak is doing well, with some seepage, said Fire Chief Kevin Bowling. Crews are patrolling the dikes 24 hours a day.

Water seeped into East Side Park, leaving the Joe Robbins field under water. Some yards and basements have water in them from seepage, Bowling said.

“As far as we know, water lines and sewer lines across the river are fine,” he said. “No other concerns at this time. Treatment plant as of now is good.”

The city filled the pool to provide equal pressure to ground water rising around it.

Ecology blocks are in place at Sunrise Chevrolet, 726 Okoma Drive, to extend the dike across the road in case this weekend’s water threatens the area.

Ron Gadeberg’s house, which is outside the dike, was surrounded by water for much of the weekend.

Okanogan’s North Second Avenue has been closed between Maple and Greta streets since Friday, as water crept into Legion Park and flooded back yards along the street. Water spilled onto the street near the leaking dike.

Community members and an Omak Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints group supplemented firefighters from Fire District No. 3 in sandbagging efforts Saturday morning. Goodall said a woman in the neighborhood fired up her grill and provided workers with hot dogs.

A dike behind D&D Auto and Okanogan Tire was beefed up earlier in the week and erosion downstream from the Mill Street bridge was addressed.

Goodall said he’s been working with health officials, the state Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Super sacks” - large sandbags - were placed along Highway 97 south of Tonasket to keep water off the highway.

The Corps has provided tens of thousands of sandbags to the community. Okanogan Valley Concrete serves as a filling site, with Okanogan County paying for the sand.

All bridges are intact; the state Department of Transportation has a boom truck staged in Brewster to pick logs out of the river if they back up against bridges.

Goodall said people with water in their basements are advised not to pump them, since that could cause walls to buckle or collapse.

On the Similkameen River, Enloe Dam is continuing to hold its own, despite heavy flows on the river west of town.

The Okanogan County Public Utility District, which owns the dam, is conducting additional inspections and monitoring of the dam.

“This is in conjunction with existing protocols which already include 24/7 monitoring,” said PUD officials. “Enloe was inspected … by the chief dam safety engineer and there were no visual indications of issues. The dam is passing flows as it has done historically.”

Officials urge people to stay back from the river and the dam.

Douglas County PUD’s Wells Dam, on the Columbia River just south of the Okanogan-Chelan county line, is seeing lots of water, said district spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert.

“We are trying to use as much of it for power production as possible, but a lot is being spilled, too,” she said. “This trend is anticipated to last at least a few more days.”

The utility has a log boom, so is able to pick up logs backed up against the dam.

The Washington State Patrol advised people who are close to the Okanogan, Similkameen and Methow rivers, and smaller rivers and creeks, to remain vigilant, pay close attention to water levels and be prepared for changing conditions.

Red Cross is available to help people displaced by flooding, but there have been no general evacuation orders.

Several county roads are closed because of flooding. An interactive map of the locations is at okanogandem.org.

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