River spills over banks

By Observer staff March 12, 2014 10:27 am

A barn and corral area off Highway 82 near Elgin are under high water from the Grande Ronde River. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
A barn and corral area off Highway 82 near Elgin are under high water from the Grande Ronde River. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)

Rains bring Grande Ronde River to flood stage, closes roads in Union, Wallowa counties

Recent rain brought quick but significant flooding to Northeast Oregon this week.

Sunday rains brought the levels of the Grande Ronde River, creeks and streams to record highs by Monday. 

The Grande Ronde crested its banks between Wildcat Creek and Troy, and flooded roads in northern Wallowa County. 

Overnight rains brought the river up to nearly 25,000 cubic feet per second and almost to 12 feet, considered major flood stage by the U.S. Geological Survey. By Tuesday afternoon, the water had receded back into its banks, but was still at a flood level of 10 feet.

Wallowa County Emergency Services Manager Paul Karvoski and county road crews assessed the damage Tuesday morning. Two miles beyond the Wildcat Creek Bridge, roughly 10 miles from Troy, the road was completely washed out and impassable. The road that continues to Highway 82 outside of Wallowa is popular for rafters and fishers alike.

“The road will be closed for at least a month,” Karvoski said.

The county did grader work upriver from Troy and beyond the Wildcat Bridge. Lon Andrade, public works director, said he was going to drive the road from the south and get as close to the washed out site as he could and walk in to get a better look at the damage.

J.B. Brock, Union County Emergency Services manager, said farther down the system, water was taking longer to get through. Cedar Street in Elgin had high water into Tuesday, he said.

The Grande Ronde River at Perry peaked around 11 a.m. Monday at 7.4 feet. The flood stage is 6 feet.

“It was actually a very high event but short in duration,” Brock said.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, the river at Perry was at 4.8 feet. By 2:30 a.m. Monday, the county had entered “action stage,” which is a designation from the National Weather Service. Water had risen to 5.8 feet. By 5 a.m. Monday, Perry had entered flood stage at 6.6 feet.

“It was a very, very rapid event,” Brock said, noting that water receded about as fast as it rose in many areas. 

Five Point Creek Road was closed due to flooding Monday. The county also closed Pierce Road, “which is a road we don’t typically close,” Brock said.

The precipitation brings water levels to 97 percent of normal for the area — significantly better than other portions of the state.

“You don’t have to go far to get out of the rain,” said Mike Burton, district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in La Grande. “At the Malheur reservoir south of Baker, you’ll see 53 percent of normal and farther south you’ll see 47 percent.”