McKay Creek crested its banks Friday afternoon and flooded Pendleton’s Community Park.
The city of Pendleton reported the Bureau of Reclamation planned to increase flows from McKay Reservoir into the creek throughout Friday with maximum flow of 2,000 cubic feet per second reaching the city limits at 6:30 p.m. The bureau instead changed the high release to occur at 4 p.m.
The city closed the park before 4 p.m., and police kept an eye out for anyone ignoring the “park closed” signs. Officer Sara Tolley trudged through the marshy park more than once to tell folks the park was off-limits.
The rising water cut off access to the playground near the Community Park tennis courts, making the area look like a swamp. The muddy water in the creek itself floated logs bigger around than basketballs and several feet long.
The city warned locals along the creek to prepare for flooding. City workers and community volunteers hustled to fill sandbags at McKay Park next to the elementary school on Southwest 44th Street and haul them to the tennis courts parking lot on the north end of Southwest 41st Street. Workers estimated they were shoving 120 cubic yards of gravel into the bags. Residents picked up the bags by the pickup loads.
Members of the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team also were on the scene in case anyone ended up in the creek’s rush. Volunteers denied a couple of out-of-town kayakers access to the creek, and sheriff’s Sgt. Dwight Johnson flew the agency’s drone to get a fuller sense of the scene from the air.
Flooding along the creek occurred in 2004, when flows reached 1,525 cfs, according to the city, and in 1991 flows reached 3,494 cfs.
The city asked non-residents to stay out of the McKay area in Pendleton’s southwest end so streets could stay open for neighbors and emergency personnel.
“These swift water conditions can become extremely dangerous,” the city warned. “For your safety, do not get close to the water.”
Several workers and volunteers at the sites said the worse was to come. They said the Bureau of Reclamation planned to increase the discharge throughout the evening.
City Manager Robb Corbett said the Bureau of Reclamation plans to increase the discharge to 2,500 cubic feet per second starting Saturday at 8 a.m. Police are knocking on doors and talking to McKay addition residents to let them know and check on how they are doing.
He also said past McKay flows at that level resulted a flooding in a few homes. But that was when the city maintained the channel of the creek, he said, and the city has not been able to do that for years. That raises the question of just how much the water the creek can hold.
City staff will meet again Saturday morning to assess the situation and go from there.
The Pendleton Round-Up Association offered to let community members keep livestock the flooding affects at the Round-Up Grounds for free. For more information call the Round-Up at 541-276-2553.