The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

Waitsburg plans for emergency preparedness

Flooding is not expected to be an immediate threat


WAITSBURG – At the close of nearly every winter, Waitsburg residents surmise about the likelihood of a high-water event like the Food of 1996. With a high snowpack and anticipated warming temperatures, this year is no different.

Statistics can be frightening. Washington’s snowpack contains 30 million-acre feet of water, which is nearly the amount of water stored behind Grand Coulee Dam. Eight million of that was gained between Feb. 5 and 20, during record snowfalls, according to the Department of Ecology (DOE). That said, the state’s snowpack was still only 91 percent of normal at that date, and lower than it was at the same point in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“It’s always possible to have a flood. The weather can be wacky. People should always be prepared to take care of themselves for three to five days,” said Waitsburg Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Kate Hockersmith.

“But as far as this year goes, I’m not particularly worried,” she added.

Waitsburg’s Emergency Preparedness Committee has been meeting regularly over the last year to streamline and update local emergency processes. Members include: Jim Romine and Kate Hockersmith (city council), Brian Treadway and Josh Wood (communications), Randy Charles (fire/EMT background), and Matt Spring (fire district liaison).

The Committee has finalized a Flood Emergency Notebook and copies are stored at City Hall and at the school district. The notebook includes a list of emergency phone numbers and contacts and emergency preparedness plans for Waitsburg and Walla Walla County.

“It includes a hierarchy of who gets called when, and information on where sandbags are stored, who has the key, how to get ahold of the food bank, etc.” Hockersmith said.

On Feb. 21, several committee members met with Walla Walla County emergency management representatives to learn how Waitsburg can better work with the County in the case of flood or other emergency.

“Flooding was a big topic at that meeting. People seemed to agree that we may have localized flooding, but no one is expecting a massive event like the Flood of 1996. I didn’t walk away scared,” Hockersmith said.

City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe agreed.

“Based on what I receive from Walla Walla County Emergency Management, I see no imminent threat of flooding this year. The ground is not frozen, there are no ice dams, and melting, when it occurs, is slow and steady,” he said.

Hinchliffe said that there has been a lot of work done in the City since the Flood of 1996.

“We have two new bridges and 13 homes were removed from the floodway to expand the water area that could be disbursed in the event that it tops the levees,” he said.

He said that the City has elevated structures, made improvements along the levee and cleared vegetation. The power substation was moved and the wastewater treatment plant was both moved and elevated.

“The City has a new heavily-fortified dike by the fairgrounds to tie into the work the former flood control district did along Coppei Creek to protect that end of the City. And we now own the land above the springs to help keep them from getting washed out.

“We have an emergency action plan that helps guide the City on how to fight high water events, depending on where the threat is coming from and we have a stockpile of sand and sandbags,” Hinchliffe said.

He said that the City is currently working with the Washington Military Department to procure a backup generator grant. The City has also entered into a Flood Mitigation Study with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The study will hopefully result in more improvements to our flood control system. We hope to be able to present alternatives later this year,” Hinchliffe said.

Hockersmith said dates and times of the Emergency Preparedness Committee meetings will be changing, but they will be made public and interested parties are encouraged to attend.

“I don’t want people to be frightened, but I also don’t want them to be complacent. We need to always be prepared,” Hockermith said.


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