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Gov. Otter urges caution amid growing flood threats in Boise area and throughout state

UPDATED: Wed., April 19, 2017, 10:42 p.m.

Gov. Butch Otter joins federal, state and local officials to discuss flooding throughout the state, on Wednesday, April 19, at the Idaho state Capitol. (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Russell)
Gov. Butch Otter joins federal, state and local officials to discuss flooding throughout the state, on Wednesday, April 19, at the Idaho state Capitol. (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Russell)

Gov. Butch Otter joined local, state and federal officials today to urge caution amid increasing risk of flooding across the state, including in the Boise River basin. “Most of our counties have been declared disasters, and we’re working to get assistance and relief deployed wherever it’s needed as quickly as possible,” Otter said at a news conference in the state Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium.

The governor is pointing Idahoans to the Idaho Department of Water Resources website for the latest information on mountain snowpack and local flood threats throughout the state.

Col. Brad Richy, director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, said four federal disaster declaration requests are pending, including one that was denied but that the state is appealing. Disaster officials are currently documenting threats in Shoshone and Valley counties for one of the latest declarations, he said.

“Based on the initial damage assessments we’ve done so far this year, we’re up to approximately $62 million worth of damage,” Richy said. “We’re continuing to work with FEMA and all the entities. … $62 million worth of damage since January has been an amazing impact on the communities.”

Richy said the first disaster declaration request was for southwestern Idaho; the second was for the Magic Valley; the third is for northern and north-central Idaho, where eight counties “have gone through an extremely difficult and challenging time with flooding, avalanches, mudslides, landslides;” and the fourth is for mountain flooding that will impact Ada, Canyon, and Gooding counties plus others. “There are other counties that are added to that because we anticipate the flooding to continue to the middle of June,” Richy said.

Lt. Col. Damon Delarosa, commander of the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said this has been a record year for the region, with 300 percent of normal precipitation in February and 200 percent in March. “There’s a lot of snow in the mountains,” Delarosa said. “We’ve had about 250 percent of normal runoff in February, 350 percent in March, and to date about 220 percent in April. … It’s been quite a challenge.”

Delarosa said the Army Corps has been making “calculated” decisions about river flows, and higher flows on the Boise River likely will continue impacting the Greenbelt and adjacent areas at least until May or early June. “Yes, the water is high; yes, the water will remain high,” he said. But he said the Corps is hoping its actions will help avoid larger-scale flooding in the Boise region. “We are preparing for the worst as far as potential flooding in the May-June time frame,” he said.

Otter said, “I urge everyone to understand the dangers posed by floodwaters. Even when it looks shallow, the power of moving water can be deadly. Just 6 inches of water can overturn a large vehicle, and 3 inches can knock over an adult. … Remember: ‘Turn around, don’t drown.’ ”

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