The National Weather Service has not issued a flood warning for Union and Wallowa counties since the warning last week expired, but the possibility that rivers and streams in this area could jump their banks in the days ahead looms.
“It is something to keep an eye on, but (flooding) is not imminent,” said Jim Smith, a forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Pendleton.
Rainfall and snowmelt caused rivers and streams in Union and Wallowa counties to overflow last week. Their levels dropped late last week before they began to rise again a few days later. The Grande Ronde River at Perry is now a little less than 2 feet below flood stage, but at Troy the river is at capacity.
Snowmelt brought on by warming temperatures this week is causing rivers to rise. The rate they are rising could accelerate this weekend because rain is in the forecast, Smith said.
Wallowa County was hit by so much rain last week that its board of commissioners declared a state of emergency April 9. The flooding forced the closure of several roads, some of which remain closed, said Wallowa County Road Supervisor Lon Andrade. Wildcat Road between Promise and Troy and a portion of Whiskey Creek Road in the Wallowa area are closed except for local residents.
The roads are shut down because of flood damage and muddy conditions, which are making it impossible to bring in the heavy equipment needed to repair them.
“The ground is too soft,” Andrade said.
He said Wallowa County was fortunate not to have suffered more damage than it did. He credits the installation of small embankments along the side of some roads to guard them against floodwater, reducing damage.
However, he is now worried that heavy snowmelt could trigger another flooding episode.
“We fared pretty well, but there is still a lot of snow in the mountains,” he said, adding that most of the snowmelt that caused flooding last week was from lower elevations.
Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) asked Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency for Wallow and Umatilla counties on Monday morning. Brown’s office, however, announced on Monday afternoon that conditions in Wallowa and Umatilla counties were not serious enough to warrant an emergency declaration, Hansell said.
Union County also experienced flooding last week but it appears to have avoided major damage. Sites hit hard by flooding included Hilgard State Park, much of which was under at least a foot of water. Matt Rippee, Eastern District Manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said Hilgard State Park emerged from the flooding intact.
“It is a very resilient park,” Rippee said, noting Hilgard State Park, which is along the Grande Ronde River, floods to some extent almost every year.
One reason the park can withstand high waters is that it does not have modern conveniences like electrical hookups, which can be damaged by flooding.
“It is rustic,” Rippee said.
He said no ice boulders floated into the park during the flood, reducing the potential for damage. Rippee said one year a large ice boulder was carried into the park by floodwaters and damaged a power line.
Union County Public Works Director Doug Wright said the county’s roads also escaped major damage. Wright did note the edge of several roads, including Haefer Lane in the Cove, area were washed out.
“We will be building their shoulders back up,” Wright said.
Brock Eckstein, the City of Elgin’s city administrator, said the flooding his city experienced would have been worse if not for preventative steps taken by his staff. The work included keeping the catch basin of Elgin’s north storm drain clear of snow. This allowed floodwater to enter the storm drain system. Another step that paid dividends was digging extra ditches alongside some roads, which reduced the stress on ditches already in place.
“(The ditches) only had to carry half the load they did before,” Eckstein said.
Cherry Street, which is along Clark Creek in Elgin, often floods — and it did again last week. Eckstein said to prevent Cherry Street from flooding in the future, his staff will have to elevate it by two or three feet.