High waters eyed by officials as rain comes down
The Valdez area was put under a flood watch Tuesday morning - a mere day after a flood watch was lifted after a weekend of record rainfall. The second warning from the National Weather Service was rescinded Wednesday, though heavy rains continued to plague the Valdez area.
“The City of Valdez asks residents to be mindful of water levels and to prepare for localized flooding,” said a public service announcement that was issued Tuesday night by Holly Powers, deputy city clerk for the City of Valdez. “Residents are urged to use caution on roadways as water may make driving hazardous. Extreme caution is particularly advised in areas that are prone to landslides or have steep terrain that could slough due to water saturation.”
Yes, Sundays precipitation did set a record.
“Valdez measured a record rainfall on Sunday, September 16, with a new daily amount of 3.86 inches” a public statement issued by the weather service said, “...beating the old record of 2.47 inches previously set in 1993.”
In total, Valdez received 5.45 inches of rain over the weekend. Thompson Pass was even wetter and reported 6.5 inches according to the weather service.
“Light rain began approximately 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon and continued through 7 p.m. Sunday evening,” the weather service said “...with continuous moderate rain Saturday...becoming moderate to heavy Sunday late morning through the early evening.”
City officials and emergency responders were put on high alert Sunday when local waterways began to swell and numerous waterfalls in the area began gushing walls of water down mountainsides.
Many residents in the 10 Mile area were startled to hear a long, rumbling noise resembling the sound of spring avalanches that occurred just after noon Sunday.
While some area residents saw lightning in the area, the sound heard has not thunder according to Peggy Perales, the top weather official in Valdez.
“That had to be something letting go in one of the canyons,” Perales said of the noise. “It was on the backside of the mountains.”
Alpine Woods resident Julie Fronzuto agreed.
“I didn’t even consider thunder,” Fronzuto said in an interview Monday. She thought it could be a landslide. “The other idea I thought of – what if an ice dam broke,” and a flood of water was hurling itself towards town.
Waters in the subdivision’s many creeks and waterways were very high, running muddy and threatening to overspill their brinks.
Fortunately, the rains subsided and water levels quickly went down.
In Keystone Canyon, the Lowe River rose to approximately one foot below the Richardson Highway in some areas, while the area’s numerous waterfalls spilled avalanches of water.
A large mudslide in Keystone Canyon did disrupt travel along the Richardson Highway later that evening, though the road did remain open.
City officials put responders on alert in case of emergency.
“Use this opportunity to check your emergency supplies and seven day kit,” the advisory said.
Area residents are also advised to be alert and take time to check up on emergency supplies in the home and in vehicles.
The waters at the hydroelectric project at Solomon Gulch on Dayville Road was an impressive sight according to witnesses.
Long-time resident Jymi Smith said the waters from the power plant looked like the waterfall did before the area was harnessed to generate electricity.
John Duhamel, executive engineer and project manager for CVEA, agreed with Smith’s assessment.
The water inside the dam at the Solomon Gulch Hydroelectric facility did overspill from the dam, putting CVEA officials on alert. The dam is designed with a spillway to accommodate water overflow and the system worked according to plan Duhamel said.
He also explained that CVEA is also monitoring water and terrain conditions during this period of heavy rainfall.
As of Monday, Valdez had received 12.25 inches of rain since September 1, 4.25 more inches than average.
Unfortunately, there is no end in sight, at least for the foreseeable future. Tuesday’s extended weather forecast called for rain through Sunday.
Emergency responders are on alert for flooding potential according to city officials and emergency supplies continued to be strategically moved throughout the city limits despite the fact the second flood advisory was nullified.
At Monday night’s Valdez City Council meeting, members praised the response by city workers to the potential flooding.
Mayor Dave Cobb said he personally went out at least twice to check on water levels, and others said the city appeared prepared to deal with rising waters if need be.
Residents in outlying areas, particularly the subdivisions in the 10 Mile area, have worked with the city to head off problems encountered during the 2006 flood, which at the time generated loud criticisms at the city’s late or lack of response.
“A good, proactive presence,” said council member Mike Wells.