Water has crept up Dave Portwood’s lawn and covered a low spot in his driveway about 4 inches deep.
The ground around his house is so saturated that water is seeping through the foundation of his house and into basement bedrooms.
Pumps work constantly to remove the water, and the family sleeps upstairs in what’s now a waterfront home off Short Road east of Cheney.
“It’s a mess,” Portwood said.
Across much of southwest Spokane County, one of the wettest years on record has swollen creeks and ponds, and created new ones.
County officials said there’s not much they can do to prevent nature from taking its course, other than clear out drainage ditches to help alleviate the problem.
The southern and western portions of the county have shallow soils in many places, and solid basalt rock holds the water near the surface in what scientists call perched wetlands.
“The water is as high as the old-timers ever remember,” said geography professor Bob Quinn of Eastern Washington University.
Quinn has lived here and studied the scablands of Eastern Washington since 1967, and he said he’s never seen anything like this. He is an expert in the movement of water above and below ground.
The worst of the flooding may not be over because a lot of snow hasn’t melted yet, and more rain is likely on the way, Quinn said. Water levels usually peak at the end of March or early April, Quinn said.
Residents say the last time anything like this happened was more than 20 years ago, and this is worse.
The problem isn’t limited to southwest Spokane County. Flooding has been reported in Moran Prairie, Five Mile Prairie, the western edge of Peone Prairie and other locations.
In one Peone Prairie subdivision, a resident erected a sign declaring it “water world.”
New subdivisions have aggravated runoff in some of those locations, including Peone Prairie and the new subdivisions of southeast Spokane.
But in the more sparsely populated areas southwest of the city of Spokane, it appears Mother Nature is the main force.
Dale and Marcy Firestone have watched water from a nearby pond creep higher and higher in front of their home. Waterfowl are their newest neighbors.
There is so much water that the Firestone children and their friends can paddle around in an old fishing boat and not leave the yard.
“We never had this until this year,” said Marcy Firestone. They have owned their ranch-style home at Hallett and Assembly since 1979.
“It’s going to get worse if it keeps raining,” she said as a driving cold rain shower dampened her hair.
She said she fears her septic tank will fill up and stop working, and sewage could bubble to the surface.
The Firestones are lucky so far. They don’t have a basement. Still, the crawl space beneath the house has standing water, they said.
Their neighbors are pumping water from basements, including Arden Moore, whose daylight basement is only halfway below the surface. A pond is forming in his blueberry patch.
“It’s just not draining,” he said. “The water has saturated the ground so much it just doesn’t have any place to go.”
Brenda Sims, senior planner for the county’s storm water utility department, said southwest areas in the county are susceptible to flooding because the relatively flat land is dotted with wide depressions that act like huge saucers on the ground.
Many of those areas won’t dry up until the water evaporates, she said.
The problem has slowed development plans in some areas.
A 98-home subdivision proposed for the Minnie Creek bottom land at the north end of Cheney has been held up because storm water is not draining, said Paul Schmidt, Cheney director of public works.
Schmidt said the city and the developer, Gary & Sons of Spokane, are trying to come up with a storm water plan for the proposed Paradise Estates, which already has streets and curbs installed.
Schmidt said the heavy runoff this year has come as a surprise to engineers. “It has really opened some eyes,” he said.
Rain and snowfall amounts came at near record levels in recent months. More than 25 inches of precipitation fell in 1996, making it the third-wettest year on record in Spokane. The last three months of 1996 saw 11 inches of precipitation, the highest amount ever for October, November and December combined.
Another 3 inches has fallen since the first of the year, and medium-range forecasts from the National Weather Service say more is on the way.
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