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Keeping an eye on rivers during flood season

2:15 pm November 18th, 2013

Pierce County officials are urging residents and communities near rivers, including the Nisqually, to be ready for potential floods this winter.
Storms between November and March are responsible for most flooding. The streams whose surrounding areas are most affected are the Nisqually, which flows west from Mount Rainier National Park past Ashford and Elbe along State Route 706, and the Puyallup, Carbon and White rivers, and creeks such as Muck, Clover, Clear and South Prairie.
“By now, people have pulled out their coats, sweaters and hats because of the change in weather,” said County Executive Pat McCarthy. “However, getting ready for winter weather is about more than staying warm. It’s about preparing yourself, your property and your family.”
To be ready for flood season, McCarthy said, property owners should have flood insurance, keep storm drains near their homes and businesses clear of debris, and store valuables and household chemicals above flood levels.
Residents are also encouraged by officials to create a family plan that includes identifying a safe route from their home, school and work to high ground, setting a meeting place for family members in case of separation, and designating an out-of-state contact to call if local lines are busy or down.
An emergency kit should include at least a seven-day supply of food and water, first aid supplies, extra clothing and blankets, prescription medicine, and hygiene and sanitation supplies. Additional information can be found at www.piercecountywa.org/prepare.
More than 17,000 residents who live or own property near flood hazard areas within unincorporated Pierce County will soon receive the county’s annual Flood Bulletin in the mail, officials said. The bulletin provides information on flood protection and preparedness, such as:
• The county’s Flood Warning System and emergency contact information.
• Actions that property owners can take to avoid flood disaster – before, during, and after a flood.
• Flood insurance facts and how to purchase flood insurance.
The bulletin is also available online at www.piercecountywa.org/flood, by calling (253) 798-2725, or emailing pcwater@co.pierce.wa.us.
A floodplain is the area where water flows during a flood. Historically, development regulations did not restrict building in floodplains. Consequently, existing development in floodplains is at risk during floods, officials noted.
Over the years, Pierce County has purchased and acquired land in floodplains, permanently reserving certain areas to reduce flood hazards and improve fish and wildlife habitat.
Since 1962, major flooding has led to 15 federal-declared disasters in Pierce County.
The rivers in Pierce County behave differently than many other rivers in western Washington, according to experts. Most major rivers in Pierce County start from glaciers on Mt. Rainier, and as a result carry up to 13 times more sediment than other non-glacially fed rivers. As the rivers flow out of the mountains and reach the flat valley floors, their speed decreases, allowing the sediment, rocks, sand and gravel to settle in the river channel. That reduces the channels’ capacity and increases the potential for flooding.

The Nisqually River looked like this in 2006 near Ashford and the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park after flooding destroyed the park’s Sunshine Point campground. (Courtesy photo)

The Nisqually River looked like this in 2006 near Ashford and the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park after flooding destroyed the park’s Sunshine Point campground. (Courtesy photo)

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