The muddy waters of the Similkameen River at the Nighthawk Bridge flowing toward Oroville. Photo by Gary DeVon
Extended potential for flood has us on river watch
With thepotential for flooding forecast to last about two weeks longer than normal bythe Okanogan County Department of Emergency Management, I know many of us willbe on river watch for the next several weeks.
Acombination of rain and warmer temperatures have melted the snowpack sendingwater into the tributaries of the Okanogan, Smilikameen and Methow rivers, andyet more snow has continued to fall in the mountains adding to the potentialfor even more increased streamflows. The Okanogan River has already surpassedflood stage at the Janis Bridge river station and filled the low-lying areasaround Tonasket and Ellisforde and in several areas between the highway and therailroad tracks. And even though Zosel Dam controls Osoyoos Lake levels as setby the International Joint Commission, it does little good stopping theOkanogan River from rising if flows from the Similkameen overpower it at theconfluence south of Oroville and back it up towards Canada.
I amkeeping an eye on my yard as the lake levels continue to creep upwards. Theboathouse looks like it is half underwater already. Since moving to my housenear the Cherry Street Bridge I’ve never experienced flooding, but I’vegrudgingly paid about $1000 each year for federal flood insurance as mandatedby my mortgage. In our normally dryer springs, it’s just another insurancepayment for something I hope I’ll never have to use.
I took adrive up the Oroville-Loomis Highway the other day and was among others thatseemed to be driving slower than usual so they could check out the rushingmuddy river waters of the Similkameen. At the Nighthawk Bridge I stopped andtook a few pictures of the swelling waters and watched as pieces of treesfloated towards Oroville.
The triparound the “Loop” reminded me of 1972 when families packed their cars up to checkout an even higher Similkameen that joined with the Okanogan as part of thelast major flood in our region. As a kid back then the flooding seemed moreexciting than worrisome. Despite being between two rivers my family’s homedidn’t get water in the basement as some neighbor’s homes did. In fact, inthose pre-levy days at a friend’s house just two blocks closer to the Similkameen,I still remember floating around in raft in a basement half full oftadpole-infested water.
Of coursethe flood of ’48 was bigger, but you don’t hear about that one as much as youused to – well maybe you do at the Senior Centers. For now it seems that 1972is the measuring stick for which what’s happing now is being compared. At thelast Oroville Council meeting Public Works Superintendent Rod Noel told themayor and council that the lake levels in 1972 peaked at five feet higher thanthey are now. God willing this means that others and myself won’t have to startsandbagging or bailing any time soon. But if we do I know the community willcome together now as it did then to help out those in need.