Flooding ebbs and flows along highway
Salmon were crossing Richardson before berms contained waters
Water levels on the Lowe River in Valdez continued to rise and fall the last several days, causing intermittent flooding around Mile Post 6.5 along the Richardson Highway and the downing of a critical power line that connects the Solomon Gulch Hydroelectric plant in Valdez with consumers all the way from Thompson Pass and the Copper Basin.
The water was just high enough at Mile Post 6.5 to allow spawning salmon to cross the highway from the Lowe River tributary to the Swan Pond. Amused travelers traveled slowly through the running waters, occasionally pausing to allow salmon to pass in front of their cars.
As of Monday, the National Weather Service reported 8.59 inches of rain for the Valdez area since September 1, which is over six inches above average for this time of year.
The higher than average rainfall departs from averages that span the years 1981 to 2010. The more recent past tells a different story.
A close look at the rainfall in fall of 2011 and 2012 also showed higher than average precipitation.
Last year, 6.07 inches of rain had been recorded by the same September date.
In total, Valdez has recorded 59.63 inches of rain since January, almost 20 inches above normal. Last year was also higher than average by September 9, but beat it by only by a few inches. Rains later in the season beat numerous daily records. September 2012 ended up being the wettest recorded since recordkeeping began in Valdez according to the weather service.
Last September’s heavy rains caused problems at CVEAs hydroelectric plant at Solomon Gulch and caused at least one significant road closure in Keystone Canyon on the Richardson Highway. This year, Mile Post 6.5 has seen the most problems and DOT had to extend temporary the berms put in place to contain the overflow of water from the Lowe River.
David Miller of the Alaska Dept. of Transportation said a more permanent solution to chronic high waters in the area is at least two years out.
As of late Tuesday morning, the Valdez forecast called for numerous rain showers Wednesday night, with intermittent rain through Friday.
Flooding is not the only concern for water drenched Valdez. Mud and rock slides are also common during heavy rain periods, and residents of the 10 Mile area have proved to be especially vulnerable to such problems.
During the flood of 2006, mudslides caused extensive damage to a number of homes along the Richardson Highway, and threatened others during periods of heavy rains in the intermediate years.
The extra precipitation so early in September has caused many in Valdez to speculate about the possibility of another large-scale flood.
Last Friday, the weather service issued a small stream flood advisory for both southeast and northeast Prince William Sound, including Valdez and Cordova. A flood advisory is defined by the weather service as “river or stream flows are elevated or ponding of water of water in urban or other areas is occurring or imminent.”
As much as three inches of rain had fallen at sea level and more rain poured down on drenched areas intermittently over the weekend.
The Valdez area is not the only area where heavy rains are a concern.
Tuesday morning, the weather service in Anchorage issued a flood advisory for the Resurrection River near Seward, which was rapidly approaching the minor flood stage.
Valdez Star photo
Salmon, seen on the bottom right corner, were crossing the flooded Richardson Highway last week.
Officials say to use common sense when encountering high waters, whether on foot or in a vehicle.
“The public is advised to avoid standing along riverbanks which may collapse under very little weight, swift water culverts and streams should be avoided,” city officials said in September 2012 when the Lowe River water levels rose in Keystone Canyon. “Debris in rivers and streams may temporarily cause water levels to rise quickly and unexpectedly so please stay a safe distance away from all swift moving water.”
Such advice is sound during flood or potential flood conditions.
Officials with DOT and the weather service also ask the public to call in high water problems to the Valdez police department at 835-4560, or 911 if there is an emergency.