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Rivers still high; Tumalo flood watch continues

By John Hendricks
Barney Lerten
Published On: Feb 17 2014 08:54:27 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 19 2014 05:01:09 PM CST
Calico Court Lazy River

Diane McCune Frazier

Water from the Little Deschutes River flows Wednesday over Calico Court in the Lazy River subdivision near Thousand Trails

TUMALO, Ore. -

The fast-running Deschutes River at Benham Falls, south of Bend, apparently peaked Tuesday night as authorities continue to keep watch over high water levels on the Little Deschutes and downstream at Tumalo, where residents were warned to be ready in recent days.

The National Weather Service in Pendleton on Wednesday extended by another 24 ours, to 3:30 p.m Thursday, its urban and small stream flood advisory "for minor flooding of poor drainage areas" in central Deschutes County, including Bend.

Forecasters noted high water with minor flooding continues on the Little Deschutes between La Pine and Sunriver, as well as on the main Deschutes in the Tumalo area.

But Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin watermaster, cited some factors Wednesday that were helping ease the flood threat, as the river's flow dropped from the peak of 1,465 cubic feet per second (cfs) to about 1,325 by late Wednesday morning.

One is the low flow out of Tumalo Creek, under 100 cubic feet per second. Also, he said, the Swalley irrigation canal was turned on Tuesday, taking away some of the flow, and probably will remain open the rest of the week.

The Little Deschutes River "is still doing a very high diurnal (daily) fluctuation," Giffin said, "so we will see high flows on the Little Deschutes downstream to Tumalo over the next few days."

The NWS earlier noted "a concern that more flooding could occur when the water reaches the Tumalo area in the coming days, due to the flatter terrain, which is more prone to flooding."

Giffin said in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon that "even though the stream gauges upstream are still rising, we are not expecting damage to homes in the Tumalo area at this time -- just some minor flooding of yards and landscaping."

He also said it appears "unlikely" that the region's irrigation canals can be opened to help relieve the threat.

"I have talked with the irrigation districts today, and it is unlikely that the canals could be utilized, since they are doing winter maintenance/construction on the canals at this time," Giffin wrote.

Giffin noted that "putting unexpected flows down the canals (several thousand landowners are not expecting the canals to be on) can cause damage to many more homes within the irrigation district than the (relatively) few homes in the Tumalo area."

Giffin said he and Deschutes County sheriff's Sgt. Nathan Garibay, the county emergency services manager, went door to door and talked with Tumalo land owners in the areas that could be flooded.

He said they "will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds, (as) the flows were increasing during our inspections."

(Check the latest real-time streamflow readings at http://www.usbr.gov/pn-bin/dfcgi.pl?cfg=co_rivers)

"The one bit of good news is that the decrease in temperature has caused Tumalo creek to drop considerably over the last few days," Giffin added.

Here's Garibay's Tuesday afternoon update on the potential flooding, in full:

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to monitor the situation regarding potential flooding along the Deschutes River in the Tumalo area.  In coordination with the Deschutes Basin Water Master, we have been assessing the potential risk of flooding that could involve homes in Tumalo.  At this time, stream gauges are continuing to rise along the Deschutes River. 

 Due to the potential risk, we are asking those recreating on the river such as kayakers to use caution and avoid accessing the river below Mirror Pond.  Hazardous river conditions could exist.  We also ask that people avoid low lying areas such as river trails along the Deschutes River.

 The potential for flooding exists in the Tumalo community.  Residents that live along the Deschutes River in Tumalo should be prepared for a flood event.  The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and Water Master have been contacting residents in areas of highest risk to offer information.

Preparations include:

  • Move valuables to higher ground, or higher floors
  • Prepare a disaster kit.  For more information see: www.ready.gov
  • Prepare for evacuation as necessary
  • Avoid walking or driving through high water

 Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management is coordinating with the Deschutes Basin Water Master and their partners to monitor and respond to this event.  Deschutes County Sheriff’s Deputies and Search and Rescue Volunteers are preparing to offer assistance in the event it becomes necessary.

Information regarding this developing situation will be provided on the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Information Line at 541-550-4886.

Periodic updates will be provided.

Monday's story:

Due to the warm weather after the storm that hit 10 days ago, the Little Deschutes River in La Pine is flooding. Experts say that water could head north all the way through Bend to the Tumalo area.

On Sunday, ice chunks were as big as 10 by 20 feet along the Little Deschutes. And with the highest flows the river has seen in some time, the Oregon Water Resources Department is preparing for every possible scenario.

"The last time we experienced flows of this magnitude on the Little Deschutes was January of 1997," Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin said Monday. "Currently, we're running about 1,400 cubic feet per second."

The usual river flow around this time is 100 to 200 cfs.

Monday night, Nic Reid and his wife moved lawn furniture and several garden boxes away from the riverbank at their Tumalo-area home.

"We were just doing some research and saw that there was a push of water coming down, which is a little concerning," Reid said. "We'll do our best to protect our home."

Reid works as a fly fishing guide, and says he has been getting texts and phone calls from friends wondering if their property had flooded yet, hoping history won't repeat itself.

"As a fly fishing guide, I'm pretty well aware of the fable. You know, the floods of 96, that was more of the Lower Deschutes, but then the '97 kind of backed it (the story) up," Reid said.

Ruth LaMarche of Tumalo who also lives right along the main Deschutes River and remembers the flood of January 1997.

"It was up to my house, and the next year I sandbagged -- and that was the last year" of troubles, LaMarche said.

The big meltdown and rainfall after the snowstorm is causing the high water.

"What we're seeing here is a lot of natural flow from the snow melts in the upper Little Deschutes Basin," Giffin said.

That flow has Tumalo residents concerned as it makes its way toward town.

"Well, I packed my bags, if you want to know, because I was concerned in case I didn't have anyone to help me," LaMarche said. "It's a lot of work."

The height of the flow isn't abnormal, but the timing of it certainly is.

"These are flows we would normally anticipate to see in the mainstem Deschutes in the summer months, when we're delivering water for agricultural reasons," Giffin said.

As of now, it's too early to tell the severity of the floods, but Giffin said they've been working with Deschutes County Emergency Management, just in case. He also has been discussing the situation with irrigation districts, to see if opening some canals would alleviate the threat.

"We will know within the next 12 to 24 hours whether there will be a flooding event in the town of Tumalo," Giffin said.

Some tips to prepare for a potential flood include moving valuables to higher ground and preparing a disaster kit, among other things.

For more information on how to do that, visit http://www.ready.gov/.

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