By MATT FURBER and GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writers
Carey residents were crossing their fingers Thursday that sandbags would hold through the day as the community was being inundated with some of the highest recorded flows in the Little Wood River.
As a result of heavy rains, water broke over the Little Wood Reservoir spillway Tuesday, flooding the river. According to gauging station records that day, a first peak in the flooding occurred when the river reached a level of 7 feet, a foot above flood stage. The gauge, located three miles below the reservoir and six miles north of the city, also recorded that the Little Wood was flowing at nearly 2,200 cubic feet per second. The peak came at 7 a.m. and began to recede.
But continued heavy rains forced river flows to spike again on Thursday, when it rose by 11 a.m. to levels mirroring those that occurred Tuesday. The U.S. Weather Service forecast Thursday that the Little Wood would peak at 7.3 feet at 6 p.m. that night and fall below flood stage by 10 p.m. Friday. The weather forecast for the remainder of the weekend was partly cloudy skies.
"People are nervous," said Carey Mayor Rick Baird, who has been out helping crews battle the flood that has inundated numerous homes and threatened to flood other properties, including Idaho Glulan & Millwork, a timber manufacturing business. "We have been diverting water everywhere we can."
The city employed a fire truck to pump floodwater into open fields. Baird said the community is handling flood control well on its own, but indicated that Little Wood Irrigation District Water Master Bob Simpson has not had a great deal of sleep this week.
At mid-day Thursday, Simpson was on the move trying to mitigate rising water levels, managing ditch and canal closures.
"I can't talk ... right now," he said on the telephone.
At about the same time, Sherrie Herbert, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, recorded a gauge spike above the reservoir.
"Oh my, the Little Wood above High Five (gauging station) just went over 7 feet. I've got to get on the phone with disaster services," she said and hung up the phone. Flood stage at High Five is 6 feet.
Data for the Big and Little Wood river basins is spotty, but it is clear that the region was hit by near record precipitation this week as streams crested Tuesday and Thursday.
In Hailey, the Big Wood River started to breach its banks Thursday near Heagle Park in the Della View subdivision. The Hailey gauge measured a flow of 3,400 cubic feet per second just after noon. Predictions were for a peak flow of 3,800 cubic feet per second Thursday night, just under the 6-foot flood stage.
The National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon issued a flood watch for the Big Wood River and its tributaries in Blaine County, including Trail Creek, Warm Springs Creek, and the East Fork of the Big Wood.
"Those persons living or recreating near rivers and streams should exercise caution," the bulletin said. "High streams and cold water can quickly overpower anyone."
In a 24-hour period on Wednesday, 1.32 inches of rain fell in Ketchum.
"That's huge. I mean that's a lot of rain," Herbert said.
The biggest single day of rain Ketchum has ever reported was 1.75 inches on May 18, 1987. Records show that Ketchum averages 1.78 inches in May and 18.29 inches per year.
Herbert said this month's precipitation has brought annual precipitation totals across southern Idaho to near normal levels for the year. In Picabo, closer to Carey, 3.22 inches of precipitation have fallen so far this month. The monthly record set in 1962 was 3.83 inches of precipitation.
The National Weather Service does not keep precipitation records for Carey, but the highest recorded river flow was 2,680 cubic feet per second in 1952.
Although water was flowing high again in the Little Wood River on Thursday, more canals were running full and keeping water levels just shy of Tuesday's sandbags.
"It's way better than Tuesday, mostly because they've done so much work on Tuesday and Wednesday," said Chris Gammon, owner of Idaho Glulan & Millwork. "We're not in any danger. It's mostly the houses now."
Gammon did say, however, that if the water level in the nearby 20-foot-wide canal comes up another three inches, his business would be taking on water, as it did in 1984 when a diversion dam broke.
Carey workers and residents have been busy removing debris from canals where it has been piling up and contributing to the flood problem.
"They're doing a good job," Gammon said.
Baird agreed, saying that although some homeowners were seeing property damage the community was managing the flood well and looking forward to drier weather forecasted for the weekend.