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Flooding hits the Valley

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - The worst flooding to hit the Snoqualmie Valley in nine years came last week after warm temperatures and rain brought the Snoqualmie River over its banks.

Public officials and residents wearily watched the news and the rising water on Jan. 18 as a winter storm dumped more than two inches of rain on the Valley and warm temperatures sent snow melt down the mountains.

Water rose quickly and public safety crews worked fast to warn residents and close roads. That morning, Snoqualmie police officers went around the neighborhoods likely to flood, such as Pickering Court, and warned of rising waters. Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher declared a state of emergency that morning that officially lasted throughout the weekend as public officials waited for any additional storms to send the water levels back up.

On the first day of flooding, low-lying roads in Snoqualmie, North Bend and the surrounding unincorporated areas were closed throughout the day. Lower Valley roads were also closed as water levels overtook the intersection of state routes 202 and 203 near Fall City.

While there was sense of calm in the afternoon, Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer said the city braced for more problems since the river was predicted to crest later that day at 48,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) near Snoqualmie Falls. The river, however, crested in the early morning hours of Jan. 19 at a flow of 36,300 cfs. It was still the highest flow the river had been at since February 1996 when it rose to a flow of 51,700 cfs before subsiding. In November 1995, the river reached 50,200 cfs.

All of the still paled in comparison to the flood of November 1990, which had a flow of 78,000 cfs, more than double the flow of last week.

"You saw what gets covered at 38,000. At 78,000, the city is covered," said Schaffer, who was a police officer at that time. "We were lucky."

Schaffer said the only damage reported had been a few cars parked on water-covered roads that wouldn't start. Some basements were damaged by ground water coming in through foundations, but no one was injured in the flood ing.

Snoqualmie Fire Chief Bob Rowe said he had been hearing of some anecdotal evidence this flood season from residents who have been watching flood levels since the city completed its 205 project earlier this year. The project removed sections of the river bank just above Snoqualmie Falls in hopes of alleviating a bottleneck in the river that causes water to back up in the city.

Tom Bean, senior engineer with King County's Flood Management Program, said the recent floods don't show the full potential of the project and that comparing cfs levels is not the best way to measure the project's benefit. No two floods are the same and many different variable affect flooding beside the flow of the river.

He said the 205 project will not prevent flooding as much it will help the city cope and he urged everyone to still take precautions when flood levels rise. The benefits of the project will be revealed with bigger floods, Bean said.

"I would say we haven't seen the full effect of the project," Bean said.


Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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