Island County waded in this week to reduce severe flooding on upper Glendale Creek before it can pose another threat to the beleaguered Glendale beach community downstream.
Since Wednesday, county crews have been working around the clock, pumping water and monitoring creek levels.
“Amazingly, it’s looking good. The water level is dropping,” Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said Thursday.
Since November, more than 32 million gallons of water have backed up in the large wetlands complex centered on private property near Cultus Bay and French roads near Clinton, Oakes said.
That amount of water can be represented by a pond 20 acres wide and 5 feet deep, he said.
At its peak, the current volume of water was two feet higher than a similar backup that poured down the creek after a beaver dam broke in early April 2009.
The 2009 water level itself was the highest on record in the area at the time.
The rush of water and debris that year wiped out a section of Glendale Road and flooded the tiny beach community below, forcing residents to evacuate, damaging the salmon habitat and causing millions of dollars in damage.
The problem this time is a failed culvert under the private Frog Water Road, which forced water to back up on the west side of the roadway, Oakes said.
He said that if the water had overflowed the road, the road probably would have collapsed, sending a wall of water down the creek.
“That would be catastrophic,” Oakes said. “It would be a true emergency.”
But he added: “There’s not a strong probability that that will happen now. Early results look good.”
Residents of the area have been monitoring the water buildup and have been looking for a solution since early December, said Craig Williams, president of the Friends of Glendale, a group of about 50 residents in the watershed.
He said the water is contained on private property owned by four residents of the area.
“We had several community meetings to sort through solutions,” Williams said Thursday. “The prevailing concern always was the impact on Glendale.”
The county also has been monitoring the situation since November, but until this week had been prevented from acting because both the pond and the road are on private property.
But the state Department of Ecology had the authority. After an inspection, state officials declared the situation an emergency and strongly recommended the county step in.
County commissioners this week declared their own state of emergency, and the pumps were running by Wednesday afternoon.
Oakes said the county has installed two 6-inch-diameter pumps in the area, one to push water from the west side of Frog Water Road to the east, the other to push water over a beaver dam to a pond below.
The beaver dam is one of two known to be along the creek, although there undoubtedly are others, Oakes said.
“There definitely are beavers in the area,” he said.
Williams said the beaver dams have been beneficial in the current situation, because the water the dams have been holding back on the east side of the road has helped to minimize the pressure on the road, probably keeping it from collapsing.
“It’s simplistic to say all this is caused by beavers,” Williams said. “This isn’t a beaver story. This is about a plugged-up culvert, and we don’t really know how it became constricted.”
He said there is clear evidence that someone had tried to dismantle portions of the two beaver dams, but he said reports that dynamite had been used to blast them are so far unsubstantiated.
“On a Sunday a while back, neighbors said they heard a loud blast, but we don’t have any information that it was dynamite,” Williams said.
He said that in any case, efforts to remove portions of the dams were quickly repaired by the beavers.
In the pumping operation, the county has been helped by two 4-inch gravity-flow syphons installed earlier by property owners in the area.
Together, the equipment had reduced the water level behind Frog Water Road by more than 3 inches by midday Thursday, Oakes said.
As a precaution, county engineers also have stockpiled sandbags at lower Glendale for use by residents in case the stream overflows.
Meanwhile, residents in the flooded areas have been creative in coping with the situation.
Williams, whose private gravel road, Deer Field Lane, has been under more than two feet of water at peak flooding, has spread “hogged fuel” — chunks of wood and wood-processing debris from sawmills — to make a pathway along high ground, and he has constructed a footbridge across the creek.
He and his neighbors, Mikki and Edward Ostertag, use the route to walk or tractor the half mile to where they have been parking their cars until the water recedes.
Mikki Ostertag said the couple had 18 people in for the holidays, and that they had to be driven along with their luggage and holiday gifts by tractor to the Ostertag home.
“It was an interesting Christmas,” she said.
Ostertag said her biggest concern has been what would happen if emergency vehicles couldn’t reach them.
“That was very scary for several days,” she said.
But the worst may be over, barring torrential rain, Ostertag said.
She praised the county for acting quickly once an emergency was declared.
“It’s a lot more comfortable for us,” she said. “I sure hope they keep it under control.”
Oakes said he hopes crews working round the clock can reduce the flooding to a manageable level in five to seven days.
He said the cost to the county is estimated to be about $1,000 for each inch of water level reduced, or about $4,500 a day. An additional $20,000 will be required for an overflow culvert, he added.
Meanwhile, Glendale resident Lorinda Kay said she’s breathing easier since the county became involved. Kay’s small house next to Glendale Creek was one of those flooded in 2009, and was the last to be dried out.
“I’m glad the county was proactive on this,” Kay said Thursday.
“I sleep better at night knowing that somebody’s down there monitoring the creek.”
Williams said regular updates on the flooding will be posted on his group’s website, www.friendsofglendale.org.