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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City declares Spokane River open after water drops below flood stage

FILE – Spokane Fire officials look down Upriver Drive, which was covered by the rising waters of the Spokane River, Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

With flows dropping below official flood stage, the city of Spokane lifted its emergency closure of the Spokane River on Thursday.

However, whitewater paddling and rafting enthusiasts still are out of luck in the portions of the river governed by Spokane Valley and Spokane County, where closures remain in effect.

The Spokane Valley City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution to reopen the river at its Tuesday meeting, said Erik Lamb, city deputy attorney.

Spokane County commissioners are not meeting this week, so no decision would be made until next week at the earliest, staff says.

The remaining closures keep whitewater kayaking and rafting enthusiasts off some of their favorite high water paddling playgrounds with the river flows prime for their sports.

“Rafting outfitters are calling and wondering when they’ll be able to get on the river to do their guide training,” said Jerry White of the Spokane Riverkeeper office. “People who use the river need to get some clarity on why and when the river is closed.

“The Colorado River isn’t closed in high water. Why the Spokane?”

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the overriding concern for closing the river was the risk to first responders who would be called for a rescue.

“The men and women who have to go on the river and get somebody say it’s unsafe for them to get on the river,” Knezovich said March 24 after asking the local government leaders to close the river.

The city of Spokane issued a media release Thursday saying, “The emergency declaration closing public access to the river within the City of Spokane has been lifted, although city officials continue to urge people to stay out of the river while flows remain high.

“Spokane Fire Department officials stress that citizens should continue to use great caution around the river, which is running very fast and very cold.”

Some portions of the Centennial Trail on Upriver Drive are still submerged and remain closed. The city reopened Upriver Drive this week. It was the last section of street closed because of flooding.

Flows in the Spokane River dropped below the official flood stage of 27 feet at Monroe Street Wednesday, according to the gauge maintained there by the U.S. Geological Survey. The river still is running high at about 30,000 cubic feet per second. The flows peaked at nearly 43,000 cubic feet per second on March 21, the city says.

White said boaters will need to rally together and demand clearer parameters for emergency river closures. He said the entire river should be opened this weekend for companies preparing for what should be a long whitewater season.

Professionals and expert paddlers have the skills, dry suits and training to be on the river at flood-stage levels, he said.

“The river isn’t totally safe at any level,” he said. “All they’re doing with high-water closures is keeping the most competent and skilled people off the water” at a time of the season when the river is in peak form for their sports.