Living with flooding, part 1: a valley endures

December 16, 2009

By Dan Catchpole and Laura Geggel

Devin Ramosbookter paddles a makeshift raft across his yard near downtown Snoqualmie during the January 2009 flood. (File photo)  

Devin Ramosbookter paddles a makeshift raft across his yard near downtown Snoqualmie during the January 2009 flood. (File photo)

Part 1 of 3

In freezing-cold rain, Julie Randazzo and other Snoqualmie residents frantically filled sandbags. Her back and shoulders ached after hours of lifting shovelfuls of wet, heavy sand into the bags. The sun had set, but the Snoqualmie River was still rising.

Randazzo knew that if she and her husband, Harold Nesland, were going to save their business, Sahara Pizza and Adventure Lanes, they would need more sandbags. She dug the shovel into the pile of sand once more.

Snoqualmie Valley residents have endured flooding for generations. Flooding can be destructive, and yet people continue to come to the Valley, drawn by its natural beauty, which has been created, in part, by flooding. They find ways to coexist with high waters, just as Randazzo and Nesland have.

Together with some of their employees, they filled and stacked the bags around the eighty-year-old building, in hopes of keeping the floodwaters at bay. Their livelihood depended on how well their preparations stood up.

Living with flooding

Shortly after dinnertime, Randazzo and Nesland said ‘goodbye.’ With the floodwaters rising in the upper Snoqualmie Valley, she and their five children needed to get out before the roads were cut off.

“I barely got out of town with the kids,” she said. “The water had already started coming up over the road, and I wasn’t sure if my van was high enough to get over the water.”

Randazzo rolled the dice and cleared the water without flooding her engine.

Nesland and three others stayed at the bowling alley through the night, pumping water for nine hours straight to keep from damaging the lanes. Despite sandbagging the building’s exposed sides, water was still seeping in under the pin changing machines, which were bolted to a slab of concrete. The bolts, Randazzo said, must run into the dirt, which was saturated.

“If it destroys the lanes, it would pretty much destroy the business,” she said. Insurance wouldn’t have been enough to cover the $150,000 it would cost to replace the lacquered wood floors.

Randazzo spent a sleepless night at on high ground, calling Nesland for updates. By the time the sun rose, the worst had passed and their business had survived another flood.

Not far from Sahara Pizza, Don and Nancy Ekberg were waiting for the water to subside to see how their house fared.

Without the help of a small army, sandbagging wouldn’t save their house. Kimball Creek runs through their backyard, which is only half a mile from the Snoqualmie River.

1217-flooding map

They raised everything they could off the floor and went next door to their neighbor’s house, which was on higher ground.

“Me and my wife just sat over on the porch and watched our house go ‘bloop, bloop, bloop’,” Ekberg said, imitating the sound of air escaping.

The water in their driveway was neck deep. Inside their house, which was around three feet off the ground, it was 30 inches deep.

They waited two days for it to subside before opening their front door.

“We lost everything,” Ekberg said. Beds, appliances, furniture, cabinets, flooring, carpeting and drywall were ruined.

Fortunately, there was no mud inside their home, but everything was “sopping, soaking wet,” from water mixed with paint, oil, raw sewage and other effluence, he recalled.

There was a big wheel 10 feet up a tree in their backyard, and a refrigerator floated by at one point.

Ekberg did the only thing he could and started throwing out what was beyond repair and tearing out wet drywall.

Since buying their house in 2005, Ekberg and his wife have already endured two major and one minor flood events. It is the first house either one has owned.

The flood in 2006 was emotionally devastating for the couple. Their house had 12 inches of water in it.

“Here’s our brand new house, and it just got trashed,” Ekberg said.

Three years later, they were hit with a financially devastating flood.

“In 2009, I was just plain pissed,” he said.

When there is a major flood event on the Snoqualmie River, it leaves behind a swath of damage and destruction.

Flooding happened more often than not at the old St. Clare Episcopal Church. Trouble first seeped into the basement in a rain-induced mini-flood of four inches of water in January 2006, which sat for several days before a member discovered the unorthodox wading pool.

A few months later “in May, we noticed that the ceiling in the church was getting back marks on it,” said the Reverend Patty. “We realized there was mold growing in there.”

A mold removal company advised the congregation to leave the building, as mold can affect people with at-risk immune systems, especially children and the elderly.

In May 2006, the congregation moved next door to the parish hall.

A week before the November 2006 flood, the congregation met and brainstormed how to fix the church.

“We said, ‘this will work but it will never keep us from being flooded again,” Baker said. “How much money do we keep pouring into a facility that is so severely compromised and so unable to be protected from further flooding? We could have spent thousands of dollars to fix the problem and we could never have addressed that the next flood would have caused the same damage again.”

After the 2006 flood, the congregation opted to demolish the flooded church. The parish hall survived the 2008 flood because it is built higher ground.

“The building itself is up on a little bit of a rise,” Baker said. “We are very thankful for that.”

Snoqualmie Valley School District racked up over $1.7 million in damages when, in 2009, water flooded Mount Si High School, the first floor of the district’s administration building and caused damage across the district, especially to elementary school playgrounds. The district had to pay for repairs out of pocket and is still waiting to be repaid from its insurance companies, district spokeswoman Carolyn Malcolm said.

After the 2009 flood, homeowners in Snoqualmie reported an estimated $1.4 million in damages to King County. Ten businesses reported damages worth nearly $300,000, and the city had over $270,000 in flood-related costs itself.

However, these numbers were down from the 2006 flood, when Snoqualmie residents reported an estimated $2 million in residential damages and the city had over $550,000 in flood-related costs.

Snoqualmie’s residents file more flood insurance claims than do residents of any other city in Washington, according to several officials.

Snoqualmie Valley regularly floods because, unlike other major rivers in Western Washington, it is an unregulated river. Typical flood control measures, such as a dam at the river’s headwaters or a levee system, have been found to be unsuitable for Snoqualmie River by King County officials and flooding experts.

“It’s much more of a wild river,” said Clint Loper, King County’s supervising engineer for the Snoqualmie River basin. “Partly because of that it’s retained its rural character.”

Floodwater in Snoqualmie Valley usually moves slowly but can pick up speed in localized incidents, such as this one near Fall City in January. (Contributed)

Floodwater in Snoqualmie Valley usually moves slowly but can pick up speed in localized incidents, such as this one near all City in January. (Contributed)

Much of that rural character is found in agriculture, which has thrived in the Valley. The upper Snoqualmie Valley basin spans 367 square miles and the Snoqualmie River Basin supports more than 4,500 acres of farmland. That farmland is usually first to flood when rain and snow run-off expands the river. 

The river floods today much the way it has since glaciers created it 12,000 years ago. The floodwaters can be deep but are generally slow moving.

Typically, the greatest damage is from inundation, such as happened to Ekberg and St. Clare Episcopal Church. However, there can be times when conditions create fast-flowing water in a small area, which can undermine a building’s foundation.

Another very serious danger is what experts call “channel migration,” when a river moves across the landscape. The Snoqualmie River is most likely to move in the lower valley, with its flat floor and around its Middle and South Forks.

“It’s an area of high instability and with a lot of houses,” Loper said.

Predicting where the two forks might move to is very difficult. “Geologically its an unstable point,” he said.

Despite the river’s unpredictable nature, many people choose to live in the Valley for its natural aesthetics. Without a control dam, flooding will continue to occur, Loper said, but that doesn’t mean Ekberg is ready to pack her bags.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Ekberg said. “We love it here. Snoqualmie Valley’s a beautiful place 361 days of the year. It’s those other four days a year that you hate.”

Snoqualmie River flood phases:

          Phase      Flow level        Description

  • 1            6,000 c.f.s.*    Internal Alert
  • 2           12,000 c.f.s.     Lowland flooding
  • 3           20,000 c.f.s.    Flooding in the entire Snoqualmie Valley
  • 4           38,000 c.f.s.    Some residential areas may experience dangerous high velocities and flooding of homes.

*c.f.s.= cubic (of water) feet per second

(Source: King County, United States Geological Survey)

Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246 or Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221, or

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2 Responses to “Living with flooding, part 1: a valley endures”

  1. Tweets that mention Living with flooding, part 1: a valley endures : Snoqualmie, WA – SnoValley Star – News, Sports, Classifieds -- on December 16th, 2009 3:09 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anelia Sutton, Dan Catchpole. Dan Catchpole said: Living with flooding in Snoqualmie Valley, pt 1 of 3 [...]

  2. Anonymous on December 17th, 2009 11:28 pm

    Only 30 inches of water inside the house? That’s nothing to write about. Add another 12 inches for my house.


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