OPINION: Potential For Major Flooding On Bitter Creek

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The following was written and submitted by Tom Gagnon.

My name is Tom Gagnon. I live on Clark Street here in R.S.

My concern today is the potential for major flooding from Bitter Creek.  I also have suggestions on how we might prepare.  

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Let me start by reminding everyone of the recent flooding that occurred all over R.S. Not to belittle the destruction and cost and pain to so many people from those floods, let me point out that the flooding came from relatively small drainages.

The Horse Gulch drainage, the one that enters the city from the south, beside Hwy 430, is only about a dozen miles squared. The Bitter Creek drainage above R.S., however, is about 2,400 miles squared. This is about 200 times bigger! Several well-placed thunderheads could cause a big wet problem.

In the 1970s Bitter Creek did flood, and a neighbor of mine remembers touring the neighborhood in a row boat. The house that I live in still has some water damage from that flood.

I understand that after the big floods in the 70s, some major dredging occurred in the main channel of Bitter Creek, so as to lessen the damage of any future flooding. Essentially a sluice, or floodway, was created to more effectively move large volumes of water from above R.S. to below it, and that was really smart. I think that we have quite possibly been the beneficiaries of those efforts several times. This has saved us lots of money, inconveniences, and possibly lives.

We are not, however, maintaining these improvements very well. In the event of major downpours above our city, in those 2,400 square miles of Bitter Creek watershed, we could see a repeat of large tracts of our city being flooded.

One of the main choke points then, as now, is where Bitter Creek flows under 9th Street. Half of the width of the bridge span there is choked up with tamarisk bushes. These are higher than the base of the bridge.  I’d estimate that they are fifteen feet high.  Some have trunks that are half a foot in diameter. Against these debris will pile up and the flood waters will be displaced out of the channel and into the neighborhood. There has also been serious aggradation there, perhaps six feet in places, so that too would cause displacement from the channel into the neighborhood.

Although I love trees and watching nature take its course over time, within a city, some preparation for nature’s changes have to be made, or it’ll cost all of us a lot. I know that money is tight, but really nothing else matters if the city washes away, so this has to become a priority.

The fixes are: 1) The trees need to be cut down and hauled out; 2) the aggraded sand needs to be scooped out; and 3) various junk vehicles and trash, including a leaky canoe, needs to be moved away from the creek.

It might also be noted that historically, the worst flooding in the western U.S. occurs during the two driest months, those being September and October.  This is counterintuitive, but it’s part of the truth that can leave us so unprepared.