The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners declared an emergency due to flooding. County emergency manager Tom Roberts explained the action allows the county to share resources with other counties and to ask the state for help as well.
The board met Wednesday afternoon for an emergency meeting to consider the declaration. Roberts and public works director Tom Fellows gave a rundown of problems from flooding.
Roberts said much of the area along the Umatilla River between Echo and Pendleton looked like a big lake. Water again covered Noble Road near Hermiston. McKay Reservoir was letting water out at max capacity, 1,150 cubic feet per second, so McKay Creek was moving high and fast, and that was likely to last until Monday.
Roberts also patched in Ukiah Mayor Clint Barber, who said Camus Creek threatened to overwhelm the town’s water pumping station.
Fellows said Meacham had some flooding, and while the water levels were dropping, overflows from Mill Creek, Iskuulpa Creek and West Birch Creek caused some road damage. He added the Walla Walla River jumped Joe West Bridge, but Harris Park south of Milton-Freewater was OK.
Robert said as the levels return to normal, there would be plenty of damage to assess.
Commissioners George Murdock and John Shafer passed the emergency declarations. Commissioner Bill Elfering was absent.
The National Weather Service reported a new cold front is moving over the area and would drop the freezing level to 4,000 feet. That should chill out melting from the snowpack and drop river levels.
Fellows said snow already was falling again at Tollgate.
The Umatilla National Forest reported two roads on the North Fork John Day Ranger District were unsafe to drive due to the recent rainfall and flooding rivers.
Mud, snow and saturated conditions promoted the shutdown of Forest Service Road 5326 between Heppner and Ukiah. The public should instead use Highway 74 from Nye/Franklin Grade as an alternate route.
The Forest Service also closed its Road 54 off Pearson Creek Road, approximately 14 miles outside of Pilot Rock, due to water across the roadway and damage from erosion.
That road has no alternate routes.
Other flooding issues on the forest include the 32 Road near the Bar M Ranch and Umatilla Forks Campground on the Walla Walla Ranger District.
Water is crossing the road near the forest boundary. Additionally, many rivers on the Umatilla National Forest are at risk of flooding.
Forest officials advised washouts or obstructions, such as rocks or boulders, could affect roads and trails, so the public should use caution when traveling though the national forest. Visitors should plan ahead and contact their local ranger district prior to starting their trip. Most forest roads remain inaccessible due to mud, snow or snow drifts.
In addition, traveling on thawing, saturated and muddy roads can result in resource damage and serious safety concerns.
“Forest conditions are dynamic this time of year and likely to change throughout the day and week,” according to Wednesday’s warning. “Forest Service staff will be patrolling and reporting any road obstructions, road washouts, or downed trees. The public is encouraged to monitor the Umatilla National Forest Facebook page and website for updates on flooding.”
Many places in the Blue Mountains also have limited or no cellphone coverage.
“Forest visitors should always be prepared to spend the night in the forest with warm clothing, food and plenty of water,” the Forest Service advised. “Before heading out, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.”
Additional information about the Umatilla National Forest is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/umatilla.