CALDWELL — The Board of Canyon County Commissioners voted Tuesday to declare a disaster emergency for flooding, a decision that comes as river and stream flows continue to rise and in some areas of the county force people living close to the rivers to evacuate for higher, drier ground.
Commissioner Tom Dale said the emergency declaration does not come with county funding, but instead puts the county in position to potentially obtain aid from state and federal sources.
Lt. David Schorzman with the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office said he anticipates more flooding will impact the county on top of what’s occurring now. Rising flows on the Boise River have already forced the evacuation of dozens who were renting sites at the Caldwell Campground and RV Park, nestled between the river and Interstate 84 on Caldwell’s western edge. Those who were staying at the campground have been temporarily relocated to the Canyon County Fairgrounds.
Ada County has also declared a state of emergency due to flood concerns and damage.
SOME FORCED TO EVACUATE
James Caldwell, who had been living at the Caldwell Campground and RV Park for two years, was among those forced to evacuate due to flooding late Thursday night.
For now, he’s being charged $11 per day to stay in the Canyon County fairgrounds parking lot. Initially, he and others taking refuge at the fairgrounds didn’t have access to water, but that has since changed.
With a horse show planned at the fairgrounds this weekend, Caldwell said, he and the other displaced park tenants had been asked to leave by Friday. He said he wasn’t sure if he’d eventually return to the park.
“I’m headed for Idaho City,” he said. “It’s the only place available that I have found.”
Caldwell said the park was the only living arrangement that he and his wife could afford.
“It’s a really tight budget for us,” he said. “I can’t work anymore, my wife can’t work anymore and we are drawing disability. You can’t rent an apartment on disability.”
The Caldwell Campground and RV Park charges tenants $270 per month, $135 per week or $25 a day. Owner Randy Wolters said electrical and cable amenities were damaged by flood waters and must be reconditioned.
He said that he was willing to refund tenant rent fees for unused time if tenants decided to leave due to the threat of flooding.
Jim Brown, another former park tenant whose trailer and truck were parked nearby the Caldwells’ at the fairgrounds parking lot, said he was warned by the park management about the possibility of flooding and was prepared to leave.
“I went to bed at about 9 o’clock and at 11 o’clock, James (Caldwell) came and woke me up and said, ‘The water’s knee high,’” he said. “I looked out and said, ‘Oh, man.’”
Brown said he is on probation and had been trying to contact his probation officer for several days to get permission to go to Boise where he has a place to stay.
“I’ve got a friend that is going to come pick me up in the morning,” he said.
About 20 more tenants have left the RV Park due to flooding, in addition to 20 others that moved out around March 4.
For safety reasons, a barricade of sandbags have been placed along the park’s border nearest the interstate and greenbelt path along the river.
Bass Lake, a private lake inside the campground, is nearly as high as a nearby stretch of the Boise River, with both waterbodies spilling water over its banks and into the campground.
On the other side of the property, tenants evacuated Thursday and Friday when the river breached blockades installed in by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At least two trailers have been abandoned because owners didn’t have time to move them before water levels got too high, Wolters said.
Since then, the water levels have receded, leaving soft earth and puddles.
“Our view of the river now looks a lake,” Wolters said.
River water is finding its way into the septic system. Wolters said opening the gates of canals has helped drain and divert some of the water, but it’s just a temporary fix.
Though the river level has decreased, hydrologists say it’s likely to rise again in coming days.
“I’m just trying to fight this,” Wolters said.
The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office has offered some assistance. The Emergency Management Coordinator brought in the Sheriff’s Inmate Labor Detail workers to help fill sandbags for Wolters.
Despite the county’s local flood disaster emergency declaration Tuesday, county spokesman Joe Decker said that besides the RV park, most flooding has been low-level nuisance flooding with no threat to structures.
“Some people are moving out of places on their own, but there is no order of evacuation by the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
As of Monday, Anderson Ranch reservoir was 85 percent full, Arrowrock was 47 percent full, Lucky Peak was 56 percent full and Lake Lowell was 93 percent full, according to data from the US Bureau of Reclamation.
During March, Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation hydrologists managed the Boise River system with about 350-percent of normal inflows into the reservoirs at Lucky Peak, Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch dams, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers press release. More than 2 million acre-feet of water is stored in the snowpack covering the 2,680-square-mile watershed surrounding the three reservoirs upstream of Boise.
The reservoirs together have about 320,000 acre-feet of available space for inflows. That means federal reservoir managers will need to continue increasing releasing water in higher flows to make room for the snowmelt expected from the mountains.
Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist at the Idaho Snow Survey, was unable to speculate on how long the spring runoff period will be this year. The next monthly report on snowpack conditions will be released Thursday.
As of Tuesday, the snowpack in the Boise Basin was measured at 142 percent of what it should be normally. The deepest snow measured was in the latest survey at Trinity Mountain, where officials measured more than 4 feet.
Last year at this time there was about 3 feet of snow on Trinity Mountain with snowpack at 107 percent of average, according to Idaho Snow Survey data.
The April forecast about how much water will be available for use in the spring and summer was not available Tuesday. In March, the Snow Survey estimated there would be abundant water supply this year in the Boise Basin.