Flooding Hits Okanogan And Ferry Counties As Melting Canadian Snowpack Fills Rivers
BY EMILY SCHWING & SCOTT LEADINGHAM
It’s a record year for flooding in northeastern Washington as spring runoff makes its way into the region’s rivers.
At least eight rivers are at or above flood stage. Nearly all of them cross the U.S.-Canada border. British Columbia saw a near record snow year in the mountains this year and now that temperatures are warming, the runoff from snowmelt is making its way into rivers and lakes.
Officials in Okanogan County have declared a state of emergency as widespread areas of flooding and high water are expected to continue through the weekend and foreseeable future.
Fed by a fast-melting and heavy Canadian snowpack, the Okanogan River and other rivers and creeks are at flood stage and expected to rise more. Cities in the Okanogan valley – including Oroville, Tonasket, Riverside, Omak and Okanogan and areas of the Colville Reservation – are supplying sandbags and encouraging residents to be aware of their surroundings and to not drive through standing water over roadways.
Emergency officials say Highway 97, the major road from the Canadian border south through Okanogan County and along the Columbia River to Wenatchee, remains open and is high enough to remain safe for now.
But they caution that conditions can change quickly, and officials say to check Okanogan County Emergency Management on Facebook or call 509-422-7206 for more information. In an emergency, call 9-1-1.
Okanogan County residents can sign up for county emergency mobile alerts by texting “OKcounty” to the number 888777.
The Army Corps of Engineers is on site in Okanogan and helping with flood control and monitoring dikes.
Flooding has also affected Ferry County and caused high water along the Kettle River near Curlew.
The Kettle River near Ferry has tied a flood record last set in 1948. Earlier this week, the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation notices. They’re also notifying residents of where to get sandbags and sand to fill them.
Runoff has filled Osoyoos Lake on the Okanogan River. The lake level is higher than it has been in a decade.
A spokeswoman with the National Weather Service in Spokane says the agency expects rivers to stay above flood stage through next week. But forecasters have said the snowpack and expected warm temperatures could leave rivers and creeks near of above flood stage for up to three weeks.
This year in north-central Washington has echoes of 2015, when the complex of fires across Okanogan County burned tens of thousands of acres on the reservation, closer to Omak, and shut down Highway 155 across the reservation for long stretches. What was true then is very possible now: The fires took out a lot of timber that the tribes harvest and use for revenue. Continue Reading Echoes Of 2015 As Fires Burn Across Okanogan County, Force Evacuations In Nespelem
Rural America has been the site COVID hotspots this year: prisons, nursing homes and meat packers. But there are few doctors, ICU beds and little backup when health care workers also get sick. Ken Roberts died Nov. 29, just one person among many who died in an outbreak of COVID-19 at North Valley Extended Care in the Okanogan County town of Tonasket — population about 1,000. So far, at least 16 people at the facility have died since Thanksgiving. Continue Reading He ‘Left This World In Such Agony’: Rural Health Systems Challenged By COVID Surge
Some of the hardest hit places have been long-term care facilities in rural areas like Tonasket in Okanogan County, and in central Washington. At least three care facilities in Grant County have reported outbreaks and deaths since a large wedding near Ritzville last month attended by some care facility staff who later tested positive for COVID-19. But a definitive connection between those outbreaks and the wedding remains unclear. Continue Reading COVID First Hit Long-Term Care In Puget Sound Region. Now It’s Hitting Home In Rural Areas