Issaquah braces for rain-soaked winter, creek floods
November 2, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
City completed projects to reduce risk since last flood
January rain turned placid Issaquah Creek into a debris-filled torrent in early 2009 — and emergency planners hope fresh memories of the flood prompt residents to prepare for the rain-soaked winter on the horizon.
Long before fall rain blanketed the area, Issaquah and King County emergency planners had prepared to respond to Issaquah Creek flooding.
Meteorologists predict La Niña conditions — colder-than-normal temperatures and greater-than-normal rain- and snowfall — in the months ahead. The combination has emergency planners concerned about rain-gorged Issaquah Creek and the potential for disaster.
“If you look at Issaquah Creek now, you think, ‘Oh, that’s a nice, pretty little creek.’ It can turn into a roaring monster pretty quick,” Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said last week.
The city has completed a series of flood-control projects in the 21 months since the most recent flood, including a high-profile floodplain restoration effort at Squak Valley Park North.
“On the emergency management side, there’s been great progress over the last couple of years on the flood warning system and being prepared for natural hazards,” city Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said.
Heath, the longtime public works director, said the city had honed a flood response plan during major floods in 1990, 1996 and 2009. The most recent floodwaters caused about $1 million in damage and left behind piles of debris at businesses along Issaquah and Tibbetts creeks.
“Typically, the floods in Issaquah, the actual high water doesn’t last that long,” Heath said. “It’s usually up and down in a day or so. Obviously, the cleanup effort can last quite a bit longer than that.”
Preparedness starts early
Community Emergency Response Team members opted for a proactive approach. Teams trudged through flood-prone neighborhoods Oct. 30 to distribute flood information fliers and alert homeowners to risks.
Issaquah Citizen Corps Council President Brenda Bramwell said the exercise served as a chance to empower people to prepare for emergencies.
“Being prepared gets us ahead of the recovery process,” she said. “If we sit and do nothing, then we’ll really become victims, but if we prepare, we’ll be well on our way to recovery even before the disaster happens.”
The city rolls out a multipronged effort to alter residents as floodwaters start to rise. The program includes updates on the municipal website, radio station, public-access channel and a recorded phone line.
Autumn Monahan, the city spokeswoman and the official responsible for updating information during a flood or other emergency, said although the city had ample resources to alert people to problems, residents should still prepare.
“People shouldn’t rely just on the flood warning system,” she said. “They should be prepared before a flood happens.”
Monahan said the impact of a flood is felt beyond the floodplain. Often, floodwaters force major roads to be closed and traffic to be detoured.
Mike Crossley, Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group RACES officer, said communication is paramount during a disaster.
The organization provided communications relays for CERT members during the Oct. 30 outreach exercise. During a real emergency, members can provide crucial radio links between emergency responders.
“What our group does, we are 100 percent self-sustained, and we can make all of those communications links occur by setting up our own equipment,” he said.
Expect the unexpected
The preparation can turn out to be priceless, especially as emergency planners face unpredictable floodwaters.
“It’s a little bit of an art trying to predict what’s going to happen in a flood,” Heath said. “We have stream gauging, so we have a general idea of what’s going on, but it depends on where it’s raining in the watershed, how saturated things are — is this the second or third wave of heavy rains, or is it the first wave — and all of those make a difference on how fast the creek rises and the extent of flooding you get.”
In order to prepare for floods, the city restored parts of the historic floodplain at Squak Valley Park North, cleared a drainage ditch near Lake Sammamish State Park to reduce the flood risk at Pickering Place and completed a project to stabilize the eroded creek bank near the Issaquah Medical Building along Northwest Gilman Boulevard.
The restoration project at Squak Valley Park North totaled $1.4 million, including $350,000 from the city. Pickering Place operators kicked in about $150,000 for the $240,000 drainage project. The city and the landowner also split the $167,000 for the Issaquah Medical Building stabilization effort. Issaquah leaders used grant dollars to defray the projects, too.
By next summer, the city plans to use a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to raise low-lying houses in the flood-prone Sycamore neighborhood and along Northwest Cherry Place. The effort should reduce the risk of flood damage — but only to a degree.
“People in those neighborhoods have complained for years about wanting assistance and wanting to know what the city can do to prevent flooding,” Ritland said. “You can’t prevent flooding in the floodplains.”
On the Web
Issaquah residents can find information about the city flood warning system, flood insurance and floodplain maps at the municipal website.
Residents can sign up for automated flood alerts from the King County Flood Warning Program at the program website.
Learn more about emergency preparedness, and join other residents to help respond to floods and other disasters, at the Issaquah Citizen Corps Council website.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.