WENATCHEE — Nearly a dozen blockages in two critical canyon drainage ditches were the main cause of neighborhood flooding from a surprise July 28 rainstorm, Wenatchee city officials say.
A city inspection after the storm revealed the No. 1 and No. 2 Canyon drainage ditches blocked by fences, overgrown weeds or landscaping, debris and even a garden shed.
The blockages created “dams” that diverted the torrents of water and mud into neighboring yards and roadways, blanketing them in muck.
Usually dry or containing only a trickle, the ditches look innocuous as they traverse residents’ yards, entering and exiting stretches of underground piping on their way to the Columbia River.
But all it took was that intense, hourlong storm and the estimated 1.5 to 2 inches of rain it deposited on the city and its western hills to give residents a blunt reminder of what Mother Nature is capable of — every few decades or so.
Archie and Carmelita Horrell now know about that firsthand.
A row of junipers they planted when they moved into their Elliot Avenue home 27 years ago creeped all but unnoticed into a 50-foot stretch of the No. 1 Canyon drain that forms the northern border of their property.
The tangle of roots and boughs diverted the watery torrent into the parking lot of the Wenatchee Valley College dorm buildings and neighbors’ yards.
“It came down so fast and furious, it overflowed my bank and went that way,” Archie said pointing to the parking lot.
“They weren’t too happy about it,” Carmelita said of the couple’s neighbors.
A few days after the storm, family members and church friends helped Archie cut the junipers back with a chain saw and dig out the deposited mud. Today, their part of the ditch is whistle clean.
The couple — he’s 79 and she’s 80 — worry they could face a city fine for not keeping the ditch clear.
“Something like this, how could I be liable for it, when this has never happened before?” Archie said.
“That’s not to say it couldn’t happen again, even if it’s cleaned out,” added Carmelita. “I don’t know why the city just doesn’t put a culvert there.”
Steve King, the city’s director of public works engineering, says homeowners are indeed responsible for keeping their portions of the ditch clear.
But with major rain events so rare in Wenatchee, he agreed that many homeowners probably aren’t even aware of it.
The ditches are natural pathways for canyon runoff, and predate the city he said. Some sections may not have been able to handle the volume of water from the July 28 storm, but clear ditches would have reduced flooding to a minimum.
City officials plan to send notices to affected property owners in the coming days as a reminder to keep the ditches clear. City crews are still at work clearing silt from gullies and drains.
King said the stormwater system in the city’s urban areas was a little overwhelmed by the deluge, but performed well.
Chelan County officials have received 29 flood-damage reports from Wenatchee and county residents. City Fire Chief Stan Smoke says the damage isn’t extensive enough to qualify for federal relief funding.
That means that affected residents like Bob Acklin, who lives in a rented home with an inundated front yard near No. 2 Canyon, depend on insurance policies and savings accounts — in this case, his landlord’s — to repair the damage. Repairs at the home were under way Tuesday.
“I just don’t think that little ditch was enough for all that was coming down,” said Acklin, a welding instructor at Wenatchee Valley College. “Not unless they widen it.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173