Flooding preparation discussions begin
by Pinedale Online!
March 24, 2014
Even though the high water flooding season is still two to three months away, discussions are underway about potential flooding problem spots in the county. About 40 interested citizens attended a workshop on Monday night at the Daniel Community Center in the historic Daniel Schoolhouse. The meeting was called by the Sublette County Commissioners to hear concerns about potential spring runoff high water flooding issues. Commissioners Joel Bousman and Andy Nelson attended, along with Sublette County Emergency Manager Jim Mitchell, and Sheriff Dave Lankford.
Snow data indicates mountain snowpack across Wyoming was 120 to 135 percent of normal by early March. Above normal (110 to 125 percent) snowmelt streamflow volumes are expected across almost all major basins across Wyoming. No one knows how quickly the snow will melt this year, but there is plenty of concern over potential flooding if the melt happens in a rush.
Concerns for this workshop focused mostly on the Green River as it flows through the Daniel area where the river appears to want to start moving in a different path from its current channel. Although it is impossible to predict what the river will actually do, there were indications from the 2011 high spring runoff year that there are several problem areas upstream of the bridge over highway US 189 north of Daniel near the junction with US 191.
Potential issues include possible high water damage to the bridge on the highway, flooding of homes in low-lying areas along and near the river, overflow in adjacent fields, and the possibility of the river completely changing course to start using either Faler or Prairie Creek instead of its current channel. A diversion of the river would impact adjacent property owners in and near the town of Daniel. John Andicropolis, representing the Green River Irrigation District expressed concern that many downstream ranches were at risk of losing their irrigation water if the Green River diverts away from their canal intake point.
Jim Mitchell, Sublette County Sheriff Dave Lankford, and Daniel Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ben Franklin all indicated that the County is well prepared with sand bags to protect along stream banks. Emergency response personnel are keeping an eye on the situation and have resources on hand to respond if needed. Each of the fire stations around the county has a large stockpile of sand bags on hand and they are free to any resident that needs them. The County has a sand bag machine which has the capability of filling 1,000 sand bags an hour should they need more than what is currently filled and on hand, and they have access to sand stockpiles. Emergency managers are pretty familiar with the traditional overflow trouble spots along the river and will be keeping an eye on all potential problem areas.
Mitchell told the attendees that the first step they needed was an educated guess and engineering expertise on what the potential problems would be, what was causing them, and what could be done to fix them.
The Commissioners expressed concern over the cost a study as well as any legal liability for projects that are done that might end up impacting something else either up or down stream. It is still uncertain what, if anything, could be done to force the river to keep using the channel we want it to keep using if it wants to go in a different direction. There are multiple places of concern upstream contributing to this complex issue of fluvial morphology.
It was uncertain who is ultimately responsible for costs related to flooding damage. WYDOT and federal monies would pay for repairs should the bridge wash out; the State is responsible for waterways and maintaining highway roadway safety; the County does emergency management; and landowners have to absorb costs for damage to their own land, buildings and irrigation infrastructure. The town of Daniel is not an incorporated town.
The big question was who would be on the hook for paying for the studies and any project work in the river, which will be expensive and leave whoever takes on that role with being responsible for many future checks for projects. Even with grant money, there is usually some kind of a match requirement. Also, whoever does work in waterways takes on a huge legal liability should anything go wrong with the project or their work causes other issues either up or down stream.
Ryan Colyer, with the environmental consulting firm Biota in Jackson, offered his input on the situation. He has partnered with Chad Espenscheid to do professional engineering consulting in the area and they have some expertise already with this situation. He said grant money is available from various sources to help with funding for projects. His company can help identify the problem areas and give an overall professional management plan for a specific reach of most concern on the river. They put in a study proposal 14 months ago that was for $18,000.
He said multiple agencies have to approve projects before they are allowed to make sure they donít cause other impacts or problems, which should alleviate the liability concern. These other agencies include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Wyoming State Engineerís Office and the Wyoming Water Development Commission. His company could start now with collecting baseline data. Chad Espenscheid said they could do two phases, one to first interview locals and some of their own research to determine what the study area should be and the second part would be the actual study. The first part could be done in the next week or so and it would allow them to come up with a cost estimate for the second part.
The Commissioners are agreeable to hearing proposals for an engineering study on the situation and cost estimates for any possible project work. They would like to see a proposal that defines a study area with boundaries and any threatened infrastructure or property.