OKANOGAN COUNTY – The Okanogan River breached the 15-foot flood stage south of Tonasket on Monday, May 23 and began spilling over into the surrounding lands, raising flood concerns between Tonasket and Oroville.
“The extent to which the lowlands flood between Oroville and Tonasket is expected,” Scott Miller, director of the Okanogan County Emergency Management Department said Monday. “We’re at 15.3 feet right now and we’re expecting the water to reach 16- feet by Memorial Day. The peak is expected to be at 17 feet before June 7.”
Water flooding the lowlands is not the only concern in the county. On Monday morning, Sinlahekin Road between Blue Lake and Forde Lake was closed as was Salmon Creed Road between Spring Coulee Road and Danker Cut-Off Road due to water over the roadway.
An announcement from Okanogan County Department of Public Works said those portions of road were determined to be unsafe to travel due to high water and erosion near the roadways. The road will be reopened once conditions allow and alternate routes are available at both locations. More information about these roads can be received by called Public Works at (509) 422-7300.
“The reason the river levels are so high is because the snowpack is twice the normal amount,” Miller said. “A week ago, it was 200 percent higher than normal and now it is probably 150 percent higher than normal. We had a very cool April and the snow that would have melted off didn’t. The river was running below normal until May 5 and then the higher temperatures on Friday, May 20 and a lot of rain on Saturday, May 21 caused the rivers to jump.”
Tonasket Police Chief Robert Burks said he and City Superintendent Bill Pilkinton both met with Miller at the beginning of flood season to discuss a plan of action and at that time, they acquired 5,000 sandbags and sand which Tonasket residents are welcome to come to City Hall for if they live near the river and their homes are in danger of being flooded.
“The property owners are responsible for their property, but if they need assistance, we can gather up volunteers to help out,” Burks said. “We’ve been monitoring the status of the river and the water level is checked very often. Basically, the game plan is to provide sandbags to residents if they need them. For the most part, the city property will be fine if there’s a flood because Pilkinton keeps up the grates pretty well. I’d say there are a few houses down West Delicious that are most likely to be flooded, but not much more.”
Miller said there are currently no homes that are in imminent danger of being flooded and the county would probably still be fine when the water levels reach 16 feet.
“We’ll have to regroup in a week and see what the weather forecast is,” Miller said. “This could change if we get a combination of high temperatures and significant rainfall.”
Burks said if the situation reaches a point that the city cannot handle, they will call in Miller and his team for assistance.
Any resident who needs sandbags or sand for their property can call (509) 422-7206 during business hours, Miller said.