Where We Stand: Underwater or Out of Water?
by Luna Latimer
After another dry January, I felt giddy as the Klamath River started rising in February. I compared stories with friends about which house-sized rocks were quickly going underwater. I feel this excitement was warranted because when all was said and done, the flows were three times higher than the highest flows last year (which were dismal.)
What Watermarks Can Tell Us
I decided to do some comparison between this year and the 1964 flood that was 50 years ago, using US Geological Survey flow gauge data from the historical record. Here is what I found: The flows in Orleans on February 7, 2015 – the ones that made me giddy – were one quarter of the 1964 flows. I’ve been wanting to have a 50th Anniversary party for the 1964 flood. The lack of any type of flooding cooled my enthusiasm. Nonetheless, we made extra copies of a locally-produced 1964 Klamath Flood video and they are available in the Mid Klamath Watershed Council office in Orleans and on the MKWC YouTube page.
The 1964 footage is from Happy Camp and made available from Paula McCarthy. The video is shaky, but there are some real gems. Less than two minutes into the video a house washes downstream near Indian Creek. There is also about 30 seconds of archival footage of the greater North Coast from Caltrans. After the 1964 footage, Jock Sturges films the 1997 flood on the Salmon River. Will Harling and Charles Wickman provide footage of ishi Pishi Road and Camp Creek from the 1997 flood. There are also shots of Ishi Pishi Falls, the Salmon River confluence and Wooley Creek from Shawn Borque during the 2006 flood. Many thanks to the Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative for producing the video.
Our Unsure Flood Future
While the video of the '64 flood is great to have, what I really wish I had is a time-lapse photo of everything that happened after the flood. Log jams were cleared, houses were re-built, and people sured up against future floods.
This suring-up has had lasting impacts to the fishery in places like Seiad Creek where people have attempted to tame the unwieldy creek channel. MKWC will be working with the private landowners, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Karuk Tribe, and others to re-configure the channel that was created with bulldozers in the wake of the '64 flood, and subsequent floods in 1997 and 2006.
Putting It In Perspective
It is also notable what didn't change after the flood. Some creeks permanently left their original channel (like Bluff Creek). The 1964 flood is considered a 100-year flood. There is about a one percent chance of a flood like that happening in any given year. While I think that the 1964 flood is exceptional, by all accounts the "Great flood of 1862" was much larger. The 1862 flood is considered a 1,000-year flood. If you haven't had enough of flood videos yet, check out the ARkStorm Movie that the U.S. Geological Survey put together. It is about the 1862 flood and another future "ARkStorm" (a funny acronym for Atmospheric River 1000-year (k) storm).
Shown at left, a dip in the highway between the two stores in Orleans (one of which is now the Panamnik Building owned and operated as a community center by MKWC) went underwater in the 1964 flood. This picture helps us understand the reach of floods in our area and envision what a future flood could mean.
Luna Latimer is a Director of Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC). Her keen observations and analysis in the field, the office and the region help us move in a good direction in our small, rural communities.