NEWS

Keizer sits on a floodplain

Correction: A source for this story, Naomi Rodriguez, was incorrectly named in a previous version of this story. Keizertimes apologizes for this mistake.

The disc golf area in Keizer Rapids displaying elevated water levels Tuesday, Jan. 30

Flooding in Keizer is nothing new for the residents who live here, however, the issue should not be taken lightly. 

According to RiskFactor.com, a homeowners information website run by the climate change nonprofit First Street Foundation, there are around 3,060 properties in Keizer that have greater than a 26% chance of being severely affected by flooding over the next 30 years. 

This represents more than half (53%) of all properties in Keizer. 

Overall, Keizer has a major risk of flooding over the next 30 years, which means flooding is likely to impact day-to-day life within the community provided there is a significant flooding event. 

In the flood of February 1996, multiple homes were damaged with several residents receiving FEMA funds to aid them moving from the flood plain. 

And, according to the Marion County Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, flood damage affects not only the buildings near the water but also hillsides and other areas far removed from the floodplain if not abated. 

A floodplain is a generally flat stretch of land next to a river or stream and stretches from the banks of a river outwards. 

A floodplain consists of two main portions. The floodway, which is the main channel of the river itself and the flood fringe which is the outermost portion of where flood waters reach out to. 

By checking out the floodplain map available at cityofsalem.net, it is possible to see the areas of Keizer with the largest potential of being affected. 

According to Keizer Public Works director Bill Lawyer, the flooding that has been occurring in Keizer should not cause alarm at the moment. 

Lawyer described how the average rainfall for the Keizer area was below average last fall though, since December, that average has increased. 

For the month of January this year, the average rainfall in the Salem-Keizer area was 3.5 inches above the normal average meaning that rivers and creeks in the area may be fuller, according to Lawyer. 

Despite this, Lawyer noted that the water level has not yet reached the action level yet this year, though by looking at the hydrologic tracker provided by the National Weather Service, that action level was reached this past weekend, Jan. 28. 


A hydrologic chart for the Willamette River displaying the water at the action level on Sunday, Jan. 28 

The action level for the Willamette is 21.2 ft which means there will likely be flooding in low lying areas. 

Lawyer described that while heavy rainfall events should be expected year round, generally the chances of them happening lower once Spring is in season. 

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), climate change projections suggest that storms will likely become more frequent and stronger in many regions of the country. 

Lawyer advises residents wanting to mitigate flood waters from encroaching on their property to use sandbags to help stem the tide. 

Presently, multiple areas in Keizer located in and around floodplain areas have been experiencing elevated water levels. 

According to Keizer resident Naomi Rodriguez, a Claggett Creek area resident, the flooding that has been occurring is unlike what has happened in the past and appears to be getting closer to properties. 

Soil erosion on a lawn on a property near Claggett Creek caused by raised water levels from the creek on Jan. 30

The elevated water level can also be seen in the Chemawa Road NE area under the bridge and in the farm area to the north side of the bridge, near the Verda Lane roundabout. 

Flooding as seen from the bridge on Chemawa Road near the Verda Lane roundabout on Sunday Jan. 28

On the other side of the city, elevated water levels can be seen at Keizer Rapids Park, with a great deal of the disc golf area in the park flooded from the Willamette. 

Water pooling at the disc golf course at Keizer Rapids around 100 meters from the Willamette river

This rising water levels are also occurring down river as well in Spong’s Landing with the picnic area being completely surrounded as well as a raised water level in the Willamette. 

Elevated water levels in the picnic area of Spong’s Landing

In the Labish Creek area, an alternative water lane fulfilled its purpose of helping control the excess in water in the area. 

The Labish Creek (left) with its overflow canal (right) working and allowing water to not overflow into the area

According to Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Conservation Planner, Jessica Blank, the flooding that occurs in the city of Keizer is a part of a natural process though it is unfortunate that people have developed near the areas. 

She described how much of the city of Keizer was previously wetlands, an environment that acts as a natural mitigator for flooding, and that human development has disrupted the process. 

One example of this disruption involves the beavers in Keizer and how, due to their natural inclination to build dams, they change the environment towards wetlands which is a natural flood mitigator. 

Due to increased development though, the amount of beavers has dwindled resulting in more areas being more and more likely to experience flooding and its negative effects. 

Beavers in Keizer act as a natural water management system for the environment

Looking towards the future, Blank noted that the more extreme weather patterns will be something to watch as the case is now that winter brings an excess of rain while the summer brings little to none. 

In addition to flooding and damage associated, increased water in some areas can erode the soil. 

For properties on a hill or a slope, the effects of soil erosion can be devastating as it loosens the ground the building is on. 

In properties around Claggett Creek, it is possible to see the start of soil erosion as the sediment brought along with the elevated water levels can be seen encroaching on a lawn. 

Blank described several ways to help address both flooding and soil erosion including planting more native vegetation along river and stream banks as well as creating straw wattles–a large bundle of straw to place in rivers as a way to collect the sediment that can wash into yards with flooding. 

A straw wattle designed to gather sediment carried by waterways

According to the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation district, some helpful tips for homeowners living in a floodplain involve first doing your research. 

By researching the potential area you are going to move to you can be better prepared for a flood or if you live in an area that is adjacent to a floodplain. 

The organization also recommends measures like using gravel patches as well as native vegetation to soak up water and help keep floodplain areas drier. 

For those experiencing flood issues already, sandbags as well as environmental engineering may be necessary to mitigate the current water as well as prevent more damage from flooding in the future. 

The issue of strained water systems extends past just what our rivers can hold as the extreme weather events can also put more pressure on city infrastructure. 

As of Jan. 19, the City of Salem evacuated around 55,000 pounds of raw sewage into the Willamette to aid in the overtaxed waterlines, according to Salem Public Works liaison Trevor Smith. 

Smith noted that while the discharge of sewage from overtaxed waterways was purposeful, it represents a last line of defense to protect the water lines. 

To rectify the issue for the future, the city needs to reinvest in certain areas, such as the Shelton Ditch, an area in Pringle Creek just west of 25th Street SE in Salem, by improving the infrastructure of the waterway, according to Smith. 

To see the Keizer Floodplain map, visit cityofsalem.net

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-105

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