See next week’s paper for a story about how salvage operations connected to the Canyon Creek Complex fire will proceed.
By Sean Ellis
For the Blue Mountain Eagle
CANYON CITY — A specialized U.S. Forest Service team that has been studying the damage caused by the Canyon Creek Complex fire for two weeks has recommended several treatments to mitigate imminent post-fire threats to life, infrastructure, recreation areas, fish and the environment.
They include mulching treatments on hillsides to absorb and slow runoff, repairing and modifying culverts, reconditioning drainage ditches and repairing drainages along miles of recreational trails.
Those treatments will begin immediately after funding is secured from the national Forest Service office, which should occur within two weeks, Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team leader Rob Tanner told about 35 people at the Canyon City Community Hall Sept. 21.
“We want to jump right into implementation, prior to the first big storm event,” he said. “That could be any day so the urgency to get things on the ground is now.”
The BAER team, which includes specialists in hydrology, soils, fisheries biology, botany, engineering, range, recreation and satellite mapping technology, predicted that the damage caused by the fire would result in stream flow levels increasing dramatically following a major rainstorm.
Before the fire, a 10-year storm — there is a 10 percent chance of this type of storm occurring in any given year — would have resulted in flows down Canyon Creek peaking at 661 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Now, because of the loss of vegetation caused by the fire, that type of storm could be expected to result in a peak flow of 1,997 cfs down Canyon Creek.
By comparison, peak flows in Canyon Creek during the 2011 flood that damaged the local high school reached 856 cfs.
Peak stream flows following a 10-year storm would increase by a magnitude of eight in Vance Creek and by magnitudes of 3.5 in Berry Creek, 1.9 in Pine Creek and 1.8 in Indian Creek.
The BAER team recommended working with the National Weather Service to establish an early warning system that would alert people along Canyon Creek of imminent flooding.
Marilyn Lohmann, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Pendleton, said that type of system would likely include a series of rain gauges at higher elevations and at some critical points along the stream. The gauges would send messages by satellite every 10 minutes to the weather service’s Pendleton office and people could also monitor the data themselves on the internet.
How flood alerts are issued, whether through the use of sirens, a so-called “reverse 9-1-1” system or another method, is something the community can decide, Lohmann said.
“I think together we can make something like this work,” she said.
In an effort to mitigate flooding and protect soil, fish and the watershed, the BAER team also recommends mulching treatments on slopes that were heavily damaged by the fire, which burned 110,221 acres.
The BAER team used pre- and post-fire satellite images to help compare vegetation before and after the fire.
The data showed that 11 percent of the soil affected by the fire, or 12,028 acres, was burned severely, 35,918 acres (33 percent) of soil was burned moderately, 52,526 acres (47 percent) had a low burn severity rating and 9,720 acres (9 percent) was unburned or had a very low soil burn severity rating.
Mulching treatments will largely take place in areas with a severe soil burn rating and along slopes with a grade of between 20-50 percent.
In areas with moderate soil burn, natural needle fall is expected to act as a natural mulch, while it’s not practical to do mulch treatments on slopes with grades of less than 20 percent or greater than 50 percent, Tanner said.
The BAER team’s recommendations include reconditioning 22 miles of existing drainage ditches and cleaning or modifying culverts to allow for increased water flow.
The team also recommends 12.6 miles of trail drainage work in recreation areas and campgrounds.
“There is a lot of work to do before allowing folks back into those potentially hazardous areas,” Tanner said. “There are a lot of hazards out there.”
The team recommends posting 50 hazard signs along damaged roads and recreation areas warning people of fallen rocks and debris or that they are entering a burned area.
It also recommends surveying for and treating newly discovered invasive plants and weeds and preventing the spread of existing populations, and installing 34 wood jam catchment structures to help protect fish and hydrology.
The BAER team is also requesting non-emergency funding for things like fences and recreation infrastructure and can also apply for supplemental emergency funding if the need arises.
Engineer Doug Ferguson, who is acting as Grant County Court’s liaison with other agencies to coordinate the various restoration efforts aimed at preventing catastrophic flooding, said the BAER team has provided the community with a lot of good information and data.
The local community can take advantage of that data “to fix problems that have existed in the past,” he said. “I’ll be a lot more succinct on what we can do in the next week, hopefully, when the funding comes together.”