Ore. Water Managers Work
by Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Columbia River is likely to remain at about flood stage in the Portland metropolitan area for weeks as water managers work to control the spring runoff expected from wet weather and a heavy mountain snowpack.
"The snowpack is ripe - which means it doesn't take a lot of energy to go into full fledge melting," said Jon Lea, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland. "It's keeping rivers for the most part inside their banks. But it's got to be a nightmare for the people who manage the reservoirs and rivers that feed into the Columbia."
He told the Oregonian that snowpack in the Western states is a combined 220 percent of average for this time of year. The Columbia was at its flood stage of 16 feet just before noon Friday in Vancouver, Wash., according to the National Weather Service.
"We'd all like to see summertime come, but if it came in a blink of an eye, there would be a lot more high water," Lea said.
Steve Barton, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's reservoir control center in Portland, said it's up to him and his staff to balance the needs of agriculture, navigation, fish, hydroelectric power generation and recreation, as well as to mitigate flooding downstream.
"We try to take a balanced approach, making sure you're not filling reservoirs too fast or to slow, and to keep people from flooding out," Barton said.
Barton said the ideal situation would be gradual warming. The worst would be a quick rise in temperatures, and a lot of warm rain falling on that snowpack.
Barton said the Columbia should stay below 17 feet, but if the river should reach 18 feet, flooding could occur on undammed lowlands, pastures and farmlands from Sauvie Island downstream.
In June 1948, the river reached its historical high water mark of 31 feet at Vancouver, days after high water broke through a dike and destroyed the Vanport area of Portland.
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