By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

High waters in Valdez raise concerns around town

Glacier Stream jumped over bike trail while Lowe River runs high


Photo courtesy Bob Benda

The nesting swans along the Richardson Highway were flooded out of the nest last week – a victim of the high waters plaguing area waters.

Flood watchers in Valdez have had their hands full the past weeks as local waterways rise and fall.

The Glacier Stream raised concerns last week when a channel that normally runs low ran high, overwhelming culverts running towards the Richardson Highway next to the dump road. Waters ran over the bike path in the area, and caused minor flooding on the dirt road across the highway leading into Old Town. The waters receded before reaching emergency status, but continue to be a cause for concern.

High waters also deluged the nest a pair of swans had been tending at the Swan Pond on the Richardson Highway on the Robe Lake Subdivision.

Up the road, the Lowe River continues to flow against one of the dikes in the Alpine Woods subdivision, which has also caused the ground water to rise in low-lying areas around the dike – including a number of occupied homes on Whispering Spruce.

In a report to city council a week ago Monday, Dean Day, the city's director of capital facilities, said he and Rob Comstock, public works director, watched the Lowe River move 20 feet in a matter of minutes during the flooding crisis last month.

An emergency was declared and contractor Rick Wade was hired to fortify and extend the dike after the Lowe River changed its channel.

Day's written report to council is telling.

"The Lowe River is constantly moving, and it is difficult to predictably defend against the river," the report says. "No one knows where the river flow channels will be, and flows in excess of 10,000 cubic feet per second (4.5 million gallons per minute) are common during the summer. Dealing with the river is an on-going expensive process."

Day suggests that it might be prudent for the city to relocate or buy out low-lying properties in the area.

"Maintaining the dikes, re-directing flows, etc. should be every year, and we are never done," he said in the report. "As the river deposits material, the dikes may become lower relative to the river. It may be fiscally wise in the long run for the City to judiciously buy low lying properties by the river."

Acting city manager Todd Wegner said that additional funding for flood issues will be included in the city's mid-year budget adjustment next month. It was not clear what measures the city would likely fund in the near future.

Work on the dike during May's flood crisis was halted by governing agencies according to Wade, who believes more work on the dike system protecting the subdivision is inevitable.

Day's report says permits are difficult to obtain and a lengthy process is all but guaranteed in the city's ongoing efforts to protect the subdivision. He also noted there are hefty penalties for violating regulations.

"There are numerous agencies that restrict construction in a river such as the Corps of Engineers, State Fish & Game, State Division of Natural Resources, etc." he report said. "Things that used to be construction items are now expensive expeditions. The violation of the regulations of these agencies can result in personal jail time and fines."

Earlier this year, the city council approved a contract to hire DOWL, an engineering firm, to help the city assess gravel extraction in the area in an effort to direct the river away from the subdivision. Day's report says DOWL completed its work under the terms of the $16,000 contract – but the Army Corps of Engineers wants further study to assess the least damaging way to channel the river – including relocating residences.

"I think it would be prudent to explore all options before we move a whole neighborhood," council member Nate Smith said.

Day's report says permitting for future flood control measures in the area could take several months – with expert guidance.

"DOWL proposes to move forward with an extensive study that the agencies want, figuring out the river sediment loading and channeling," his report said. "DOWL also recommends meetings with Valdez to get consensus on how to proceed, and meetings with the Corps to get a pre-application in to them. DOWL needs another $150,000 to go to this next step."

Valdez Star photo

The bike path north of the dump road was deluged with overspill from the Glacier Stream last week. The waters had subsided substantially by Monday.


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