Subzero temperatures, increased water levels and ice accumulation prompted the National Weather Service to issue a small stream flood advisory for the Big Eddy area of the Kenai River on Friday. The advisory will be in effect for the next several days and hydrologists are warning residents to keep an eye out for rapidly rising water.
"If the water is rising quickly that's a result of an ice jam and they need to let the emergency management folks at the borough know about it," said Scott Lindsey, a hydrologist for the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center. "If water gets over bank and into roads that can get dangerous."
Minor flooding as a result of ice jams happens frequently during freezup, Lindsey said, especially after the cold snap that gripped the central Kenai Peninsula last week. Warmer temperatures have kept water levels static, but Lindsey said the water is almost on the verge of spilling over onto roads in the Big Eddy area and another cold snap could make things worse.
"(It's) dangerous for people who try to drive back on those areas," he said.
Even though flooding doesn't happen every year, Lindsey said ice jams form during freezup on a regular basis. Big Eddy is susceptible to flooding because the river and gradient flattens out there and the velocity slows down. People build their homes and roads there, but that's where ice and water starts to back up.
Residents in the Big Eddy area are used to ice jams and flooding. Joe Hanes, who lives on Salmon Run Acres in the Big Eddy area, said ice jams are an annual occurrence and usually happen around December. Normally, ice jams don't pose much of a threat to his property, but on Saturday, he said there was 12 more inches of water on his driveway than there usually is.
"The standard is (ice jams) always back up the river somewhere between two and five feet as it works its way up the river. Anybody that lives along the river knows that when the river freezes, it backs up," Hanes said. "The river just does it every year."
While the river is partially to blame for the extra foot of water covering Hanes' driveway, he says the real culprit is an inadequate system of culverts affecting water flow in and out of the canal adjacent to his property. The borough raised Eddy Lane in such a way that when water enters the canal, it's trapped.
"The road acts as a dike and the water, once it enters the canal rises up higher," Hanes said. "It's just flooding all the properties in here."
As president of the property owner's association for the Salmon Run Acres area, Hanes said he is going to start talking with the borough to get the flooding situation rectified after the holidays.
A Big Eddy resident since the 1980s, Hanes said ice-related floods are something he's watched most of his life. Other than last year's flooding event that occurred when Skilak glacier-dammed lake drained, Hanes said the last significant flood happened in the early 1990s. He said he knew people with trailer houses that wound up flooding.
"More people are around nowadays," he said. "(There are) a lot more significant investments."
Lindsey said overnight lows between five to 15 degrees and daytime highs ranging from 20 to 25 should keep river levels where they're at. The seven-day forecast doesn't call for subzero temperatures, but he said that could change quickly.
"We're going to continue the advisory for the next several days," he said, adding that the advisory will be lifted when the river freezes up or water levels drop. "Where they're at right now, if it rose half a foot it would start to cause some impacts."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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