Army Corps of Engineers hold meeting on Winslow levee, Little Colorado flooding

WINSLOW, Ariz. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a meeting concerning the Winslow levee in the First Baptist Church in Winslow last Tuesday. The meeting was attended by representatives of the corps as well as Navajo County supervisors, Winslow City Council members and personnel from those entities. Members of the Winslow Levee Advisory Committee were in attendance as were a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, a representative of a museum in Tucson and other interested parties.

There was a group of Winslow citizens also in attendance. Among the things that may have been learned from the meeting was something of the history of the Little Colorado River flooding, when the river has flooded Winslow in the past and why and when the levee was decertified by FEMA and what that meant to residents of the community. Much of the discussion regarded seeking to repair the levee and get it recertified. It became obvious that the levee can be repaired but such will not happen in the near future.

The meeting was designated as a feasibility study which, according to material distributed, may take four to five years to complete. That is the second step in the planning process after a reconnaissance study which should have taken 18 months. Next is the vital authorization of the project by Congress. After that will come the designing, plans and specifications process expected to take two or three years. Once those processes have been completed the construction of the project can begin. When the project is finally complete, operation and maintenance will become the responsibility of Navajo County.

The Winslow meeting consisted of a presentation by Navajo County, primarily by Homero Vela who is in charge of such projects in the county. Members of the Army Corps of Engineers such as Kim Gavigan, Chief of Planning from the Phoenix office, made their presentations. Public comments were received, mostly from people representing interested and involved agencies and groups. These included Debra Block with the U.S. Geological Survey from Flagstaff who discussed the changing channel of the meandering Little Colorado River. Rich Lang was from a museum in Tucson and spoke about protecting the archeological treasures affected by flooding including the Homolovi State Park.

Persons were allowed to submit comments in writing as well and that was probably done by some of the local residents. In private discussions, the necessity of flood insurance was a major issue but was only slightly addressed in the meeting.

The Winslow levee was described as being 7.2 miles long and owned by the Navajo County Flood Control District. It is an engineered structure and has experience two flooding instances in the recent past. First was an overtopping failure in 1993. This flooded 204 parcels and damaged 140 structures. The second was a piping failure at the end of 2003, New Year's Eve.

FEMA decertified the Winslow levee on Sept. 26, 2008. The causes listed were that it does not meet FEMA levee requirements and does not have the capacity to contain a 100 year flood. It was said to be able to contain a 50 year flood. The decertification increased the flood plain area dramatically.

The county and the Army Corps of Engineers plan to bring the levee up to a standard that it can contain a 100 year flood and be recertified. This would be of great benefit and comfort to Winslow citizens now in the flood plain since decertification but is not seen to be a process that will be completed quickly.

There are many problems unique to the Little Colorado River. One of those is its meandering nature. The river channel has changed significantly over the years. Another is the presence of salt cedars which changed the natural situation of the riverbed and banks.

Navajo County Supervisor Jesse Thompson spoke at the end of the meeting and introduced members of the Winslow Levee Committee among other active persons in those working to alleviate the levee problems. He also noted that the Corps of Engineers, the county and others working on the project should be aware of the flooding damage the river can do at Bird Springs and other areas on the reservation north of Winslow. He corrected said that the Little Colorado River flooding affects a lot more than just Winslow and that a comprehensive plan is needed.

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