Navajo County Supervisors J. R. DeSpain and Jesse Thompson, Flood Control Director Homer Vela and Public Works Director Dusty Parsons conducted a public meeting regarding the Winslow levee at the Winslow Council Chambers on Dec. 6. Levee Committee members Jim O'Haco and Peter Cake were also present and contributed to the discussion.
Vela said that the county has asked FEMA to recertify the levee, which would no longer meet 100-year flood plain protection standards. The goal is to rehabilitate the levee to meet those standards.
The levee had a piping failure on New Year's Eve 2004 causing water to seep from the river. Residents in Leupp and Bird Springs had to be evacuated, and it also caused damage to the waterline at Homolovi Ruins State Park forcing the campgrounds to close.
Former Deputy Director of Flood Control Tom Hieb told the Navajo County Board of Supervisors Jan. 3 that they did not know what caused the failure. At that time, the supervisors approved up to $100,000 from the Navajo County Flood Control District contingency fund for repairs.
The levee was started sometime around the 1950s, and in 1960, the county became involved. Each year from 1968 through 1972, and then again in 1978 and 1979, flooding occurred at the levee. From 1971-1979, the county spent $600,000 on building or repairing the levee. In 1976, a study of the Winslow Levee found it did not follow any master plan, so after the 1978 flood, the first engineer was hired to work on the levee.
In 1979, the Arizona Water Commission was commissioned to help with construction, and construction began in 1986. It was completed in 1989 at a total cost of $5 million.
In 1993, the levee once again flooded. At that time, the county made temporary repairs to the levee.
A lawsuit was filed, naming Navajo County and several others as the defendants. The litigation was settled for $1.4 million, to be paid out over a period of four years.
In 2000, a study on river sediment and how it affected the flooding was conducted. Later that year, Delph Engineering was hired to determine the capability of the levee and to redeliniate it.
The hydraulic analysis and flood hazard assessment found that the levee does not meet the 100-year flood protection requirements of FEMA.
Vela explained how the piping failure had been repaired. He said that the failure was not with the core of the dike but with water coming through a sandy area under the core. The sand was removed and replaced with compacted clay which fixed that problem.
Winslow resident Don Stearns described the biggest problem contributing to flooding in the area as being the build up of sediment and vegetation in the river bottom. He said that dredging the bottom would solve that problem and made more sense than building the dike higher as the build up of sediment just raises the river to require an even higher dike.
County officials said that federal regulations require that sediment removed from the river bottom be transported out of the flood plain, making dredging an extremely costly project. Those requirements would necessitate the construction of roads to truck the material out and expensive permits to do so. The regulations make dredging the most expensive option for solving the flooding problem.
Vela said that the change of the FEMA map would require property owners in the new flood plain to purchase flood insurance if they have federally backed loans. He advised that insurance could be purchased at a lower price before the map was changed and the cheaper rates grand-fathered at a considerable savings. He said that those affected could call the county at (928) 524-4000 for information and advice on flood insurance.
As the FEMA map is jurisdictional, the city of Winslow proper would not be included in the county map change. Vela said, though, that the lack of such inclusion would not stop the water at the city boundary should a major flood occur.
Parsons said that more has been done in the last year with the levee than was done in the previous 10 years. He said that what is needed is a comprehensive study to learn just what needs to be done and that the real solution would be to get the Corps of Engineers to do the project which would assure that it is done right.
After the meeting, O'Haco said that the county was showing more concern with the levee now than it had at any time since the dike was started.
Thompson said that it was important to realize what is done to the Winslow dike also has an affect on the community of Bird Springs to the north. The Little Colorado River is one of the few in the United States which flows from south to north. Bird Springs is usually isolated when a flood of any proportion occurs.
O'Haco said that Winslow could be in real jeopardy if the dike were to break between the railroad and I-40.
The officials promised future such meetings to keep the public informed regarding the Winslow levee and other related developments.
Some of the information gleaned from the Dec. 6 meeting included that federal regulations can be beneficial, but also can and do cause problems and add to expenses. If some of the regulations in effect today had been there when the levee was built, we would likely have a safer and higher quality flood barrier in place. On the other hand, there are regulations and requirements, which make logical solutions (such as dredging) financially prohibitive or impossible.
Data on the Winslow levee, flood insurance and other related material will be posted
periodically on the Navajo County website, www.co.navajo.az.us.
The next Winslow Levee Committee meeting will be held in January. DeSpain noted that the committee hopes the selection group will have picked a firm interested in the design by the next committee meeting.
"Once we have a design and the plan, we can work towards making improvements," he said.