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Heavy rainfall over the weekend pushed rivers, streams and ditches over their banks. Runoff plugged culverts in many locations, including the Intermountain Livestock grounds on Livestock Road southeast of La Grande. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / Observer photos
Water receding but property damage highFlooding in Union County the past couple of days appears to have reached its peak and is slowly backing off, according to a report this morning from Union County Emergency Services.
“It’s actually improving,” said Emergency Services Officer J.B. Brock. “The water’s coming down slowly.”
Heavy rainfall over the weekend caused rapid runoff, pushing the Grande Ronde River to record flood levels and causing a host of high water problems throughout Union County. No injuries have been reported, but property damage is high.
According to the National Weather Service, the Grande Ronde River at Perry west of La Grande was measured at 7.7 feet Monday, breaking a previous record of 7.1 feet.
Flood stage is 6.6 feet, and the river was still a bit above that today when the level was measured at 6.85 feet.
Brock said the flooding has played havoc in agricultural lands throughout the Grande Ronde Valley, causing significant property and crop damage. As predicted, flooding was especially heavy Monday in rural areas between Island City and Imbler.
“All of the lowlands adjacent to the river are flooded,” Brock said. He said Union County is considering declaring a state of emergency.
“We’re talking about it and what the benefits would be. The board of commissioners will be discussing it,” he said.
Commissioner Steve McClure said the board plans to take up the issue during its regular meeting Wednesday.
The flooding from the river and many local streams caused problems throughout Union County Sunday and Monday. Some county roads in rural areas were under water this morning and closed.
In the city of Union Monday, neighbors and volunteers turned out in force seeking to combat problems caused by high water levels.
Residents on Bryan Street started working before dawn Monday morning to prevent flooding and property damage from an overflowing Little Creek, but visibility issues, combined with the blocked culvert under the bridge, posed challenges.
“That’s just the nature of the beast,” City of Union Public Works Director Paul Phillips said. “We had it fairly well-contained at about 6:30 in the morning.”
The Union and North Powder fire departments arrived on the scene early Monday and some volunteers were relieved later in the morning when more than a dozen students from Union High School came to assist.
Phillips credits the community for its quick response.
“Without that volunteer fire department, we’d be in sorry shape,” he said. “The community always comes together and the fire department once again saves the bacon.”
Neighbors are accustomed to spring flooding at Little Creek and hope the construction of a new bridge on Bryan Street will prevent problems in the future.
“These neighborhood people are anxious for the August bridge construction,” Geneva Williams said.
Despite the efforts, some residential damage was sustained, mostly to crawl spaces and garages, and although the waters seem to be subsiding, Union residents are prepared for the worst, as evidenced by a parked backhoe and about 400 additional sandbags.
Phillips also planned to leave Bryan Street closed Monday night.
“It’s in Mother Nature’s hands,” Phillips said. “Give us a couple of nice, cool days with no rain and we’ll be happy.”
Across the valley, the Imbler area experienced severe flooding from the Grande Ronde River.
Jason Beck of Grande Ronde Angus Ranch said workers reinforced dikes with about 150 sandbags. They also moved cattle and built emergency fences to keep them contained.
The ranch is southeast of Imbler, just off of Hull Lane. The flooded dikes are about a mile-and-a-half out from the road.
“We’ve just been having a lot of problems,” Beck said.
Some of those problems include damaged crops and rainwater in buildings. Beck’s crew pumped water out of the building Monday afternoon.
“That’s the third time we’ve had to do that this spring,” Beck said.
In Island City, the Grande Ronde River overflowed and in at least one instance changed local geography.
Near the Highway 82 bridge, water spilled from the river into fields to the south and burst through a berm separating a full pond from one that had been drained. Now, the two ponds are one.
In the North Powder area Sunday and Monday, Wolf Creek overflowed its banks and damaged property. For one thing, a privately owned bridge accessing a currently vacant Wolf Creek Lane residence was wiped out.
West of La Grande, flooding was significant along Highway 244 in the Hilgard-Starkey area. The Grande Ronde spilled its banks and flooded both Hilgard Junction State Park and Red Bridge State Park. At Hilgard, water rose high enough to cover picnic tables in the park.
In Elgin, Mayor John Stover said the city is “doing just fine,” though a portion of Cedar Street was under about 10 inches of water this morning.
Stover said the Grande Ronde River at Elgin was running high. He said sandbags have been put up around a couple of residences in flood-threatened areas.