Aug 032011

By Linda Kor–

Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as Navajo County and city officials, paid a visit to the Winslow Levee last Wednesday, as work can once again continue in the effort to recertify the levee. The project stalled for a short while as funding from the federal government to keep the project moving forward became uncertain.

The levee stretches approximately 7.2 miles along the outskirts of the city, and protects approximately two-thirds of the community from potential flooding. In 2008 the Federal Emergency Management Agency decertified the levee, adding 2,700 parcels to the flood plain, including 1,500 structures.

Navajo County Flood Control District Director Trent Larson explained that the levee has become the top priority for his department, with half of the flood control budget dedicated to the recertification of the levee.

He stated that modeling potential failures to the levee has been difficult due to two different types of flows that come down the Little Colorado River, one from storm runoff and the other from the summer monsoon season.

“Micro bursts and flash floods can raise the water level rapidly,” stated Larson, citing a recent situation when the water level at the levee rose five feet in an hour and a half due to monsoons.

“Last January the National Weather Service predicted a storm with waters that would rise to 22 feet at the levee; when the gauge reaches 25 feet, the levee will over-top. We were lucky when that storm fell as snow on snow and didn’t materialize as predicted. This is just an example of the threats facing this community,” stated Larson.

He also referred to the flooding that took place in 1993 when the levee over-topped in the middle of the night and damaged 140 structures.

In order to protect the town, several emergency repairs of the levee have been made since that time, but constant threats surface due to hydraulic features, the meandering character of the channel and the overgrowth of the non-indigenous Saltcedar, or Tamarisk, trees.

With the decertification of the levee came another problem for the community that falls within that floodplain. Nearly two-thirds of the residents, many on a limited income, now have to purchase flood insurance.

The project is estimated to cost $5.7 million so the county, faced with these urgent issues, approached the Corps of Engineers for assistance and has managed to be successful in maintaining the necessary funding.

Despite the economic downturn facing the country, the levee has remained a priority, receiving federal funding of $229,000 in 2009, $224,000 in 2010 and now $499,000 in 2011. According to Colonel Mark Toy, the Los Angeles District commander of the Corps of Engineers, who was present at the meeting, the reason the levee is still receiving funding is due to the partnerships that have been formed. The funding for this project is based upon a 50 percent federal and 50 percent Navajo County cost share agreement.

“I have spoken to much larger cities and you out class them all. You have shown by collecting taxes and pushing ahead that this is a priority. We need to continue this momentum,” stated Toy.

With the latest allocation of funding, the feasibility study can now be completed. With the modeling being conducted by the Hydrologic Engineering Center operating as part of the corps, the project will now be able to reach its milestones.

There are concerns for next year, as President Obama’s 2012 budget does not include direct funding for this project, but there still may be an opportunity for funding in a bill that will be presented in October.

Photo by Linda Kor

Navajo County Flood Control District Director Trent Larson (far right) explains to visitors at the Winslow Levee some of issues being faced due to the current condition of the levee as Teresa Cameron holds a display board depicting the damage sustained by the community during 1993 flooding.