Portland, Ore. (KOIN) -– This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Willamette Valley Flood of 1996. It caused millions of dollars in damage and impacted hundreds to thousands of lives from then until now.
According to Oregon Emergency Management, flooding is the number one hazard in Oregon. So, what are the lessons we’ve learned over the past 20 years? What changes have we made to help prevent flooding?
It’s been 20 years since 1996. Twenty years since the water rushed many Oregon homes. Twenty years since the water reached the tip top of Vera’s wall at the waterfront. Twenty years since flooding claimed lives and land.
OEM Coordinator Kelly Jo Craigmiles remembers the flooding event well.
“It constantly rained and of course it rains a lot in Oregon, but it had been raining 5 or 6 days straight, there was just no place for the water to go,” she recalled. “We had an extremely high snowpack and the temperatures kept rising and it dumped the water into the state, we had 24 of 36 counties that needed assistant from flooding.”
Images from the flooding event show people trudging through water to save sentimental items; neighbors and families working to protect their homes and businesses from flooding.
So, what changes have been implemented to protect citizens from future floods? According to Jay Wilson with Emergency Management in Clackamas County, the changes have 2 components: elevation and acquisition.
“It’s a method that is becoming more and more favored at the federal level, it’s about avoiding flooding, avoiding future risk. Getting above the flood plain or out of it,” Wilson explained.
Oregon City was one of the places hit hardest in 1996. KOIN 6 News surveyed homes in Oregon City, where changes have been made in recent years to prevent flooding.
These are changes made from the ground up, and they have been positive. Wilson told KOIN 6 News that ignoring the fixes can have an impact on multiple levels from the individual to the county.
“There is a radiating effect than from a single impact, much more than just the house, it’s felt community wide, and most of the time people don’t see that. But it is a reality and it’s important to draw a distinction to that,” Wilson said.
Craigmiles says OEM has changed over the last 20 years.
“We focused on the response and many different angles. What did we do? What can we do to make things better in the future? How we can better assist the government and citizens?” she said.
That plan is now resonating through OEM.
“That is what we have been looking at since the 1996 floods, is looking for areas that have repetitive problems with flooding and trying to come up with projects to restore the natural areas so we can have storm retention areas that can store water and not building structures on those areas,” OEM Deputy Director Laurie Holien said.
It takes millions of dollars to fix major flooding problems, and coming up with the cash isn’t always easy.
“I think funding is a difficult part, it’s worthwhile to invest money up front to help prevent the money we will have to spend after,” Holien explained.
There are a few solutions you can choose from. Repairs involve creating the foundation, scaffolding and implementing changes to prepare for the next flood.
“We aren’t so much recovering from the last flood we are recovering for the next flood that we know is going to happen. To be in a better position and to lean forward, find alternatives for people,” Wilson stressed.
Many of these steps are in place now. You can check out FEMA floodplain maps here.
You can also check out FEMA’s National flood insurance program here.
For more information, contact your local emergency management bureau.