Humboldt County records highest rainfall on record since 1903-04

The Ferndale Bottoms sit flooded after heavy storms on Jan. 11. Humboldt County’s 2016-17 water year had the third highest rainfall total on record, with nearly 64 inches of rain falling.
The Ferndale Bottoms sit flooded after heavy storms on Jan. 11. Humboldt County’s 2016-17 water year had the third highest rainfall total on record, with nearly 64 inches of rain falling. Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services — contributed
A Yurok Tribe environmental scientist holds a sample of a toxic algae in the Klamath River. The tribe stated in a news release that its Sept. 12 and 13 tests found some areas of the river had up to 30 times the amount of toxin that is deemed safe and were the highest concentrations since testing for the toxin began in 2006.
A Yurok Tribe environmental scientist holds a sample of a toxic algae in the Klamath River. The tribe stated in a news release that its Sept. 12 and 13 tests found some areas of the river had up to 30 times the amount of toxin that is deemed safe and were the highest concentrations since testing for the toxin began in 2006. Yurok Tribe — contributed

Record Rainfall

Top five highest rainfall totals by water year in Humboldt County recorded at the National Weather Service Woodley Island Station in Eureka since 1887:

• 1889-90: 73.59 inches

• 1903-04: 66.45 inches

• 2016-17*: 63.84 inches

• 1982-83: 63.83 inches

• 2005-06: 58.77 inches

* Rainfall total is from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 27, 2017.

Source: National Weather Service Eureka

Humboldt County recorded its third highest rainfall total in the 2016-17 water year since records first began 130 years ago, according to the National Weather Service Eureka.

The downpour caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to local infrastructure and seemingly failed to produce the beneficial effects to fish and wildlife on the Klamath River that some were hoping for.

Nearly 64 inches of rain were recorded at the weather service’s Woodley Island station from the start of the water year on Oct. 1, 2016, through Wednesday, according to the station’s meteorologist Ryan Aylward. This is about 24 inches more rain than a normal water year, according to Aylward.

“That is pretty unusual,” he said.

This water year barely slid into the third place spot by overtaking the 1982-83 water year with just one-hundreth of an inch more rain, Aylward said. Prior to those two water years, Humboldt County had not seen this much rainfall since the 1903-04 water year, which recorded about 66 inches, Aylward said.

The 2016-17 water year had started out with a torrent of rain in October 2016, Aylward said, with almost 11 inches recorded — the second wettest October the county has experienced since records began in 1887. The average rainfall in October since 1887 has been about 2.6 inches of rain, according to the weather service.

Are we ready for another?

The heavy rains caused local rivers to flood the Eel River Valley; produced massive landslides that blocked off entire highways or tore businesses right out from their foundations; and essentially stranded some rural county residents whose roads crumbled away.

Humboldt County Public Works Director Tom Mattson said that county roads sustained more than $20 million in damages this past winter. But only $2 million in repairs have taken place, Mattson said, because the federal government has yet to provide any reimbursements after disaster declarations were made by the Board of Supervisors.

“A number of the sites are going to sit over winter again,” Mattson said. “It takes money to pay the contractors and we’ve used every bit of reserves we have in the county road fund.”

Even if the federal disaster funds were approved, Mattson said that he would still need to get federal approval for plans to permanently restore the roads rather than just patch them up.

“Nature is harsh and paperwork is harder,” Mattson said.

Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services Manager Dorie Lanni said Wednesday that county agencies are still waiting to see whether the federal government will provide disaster relief funds.

“The remote rural roads are our greatest vulnerability generally,” Lanni said Wednesday. “Another very impactful year would be difficult to weather without that work completed.”

In the meantime, Lanni urges county residents to start preparing for the winter now by clearing out gutters and culverts; preparing supplies in case of power outages; having a communications plan with family members or friends; and by signing up for the county’s new emergency alert system, Humboldt ALERT, online at humboldtgov.org/alerts .

One of the lessons Lanni said she learned from this past winter was the need for more river gauges in areas such as the Mad and Van Duzen rivers, where flooding occurred, but nearby gauges did not provide a clear prediction for.

County agencies are set to meet next month in a closed-door annual flood preparedness meeting to discuss last year’s storms and how to prepare for the rough weather ahead, Lanni said.

‘Extremely sick’

Following years of drought and disease outbreaks decimating salmon populations on the Klamath River, fisheries biologists and tribes were hopeful that the downpour would help improve river conditions. Those hopes appeared to be dashed after tests by Yurok Tribe’s environmental scientists earlier this month found record-breaking levels of a toxins produced by an algal species called Microcystis aeruginosa.

“The Klamath River is extremely sick,” Yurok Tribe Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. said. “Algae are a clear indicator of poor water quality, which negatively affects the salmon population and the ecosystem as a whole. It’s frustrating that even with this year’s above-average rainfall and snowpack, the river conditions are still compromised.”

The tribe stated in a news release that its Sept. 12 and 13 tests found some areas of the river had up to 30 times the amount of toxin deemed safe and were the highest since testing for the toxin began in 2006.

These poor signs come during what has been predicted to be the lowest return of Klamath River Chinook salmon on record, which resulted in the closure of both sport and commercial salmon fishing in the Klamath River area.

The tribe states it has observed very few fish making their migration upriver to spawn.

“As Yurok people, we have an obligation to speak up for the salmon and the health of our river,” O’Rourke said. “If the river is not responsibly managed, there will be no fish for future generations. The Yurok Tribe asks all interested individuals to join our battle to begin to heal the Klamath.”

The Yurok Tribe and many others in the region are now resting their hopes on a proposal to remove four hydroelectric dams from the river starting in 2020.

“It is a known fact that the Klamath dams are an incubator for the toxic algae. Removing the four dams will substantially reduce the quantity of the toxin present in the river, to a point where our people can once again practice our traditional ceremonies without being subject to toxic water quality,” O’Rourke said. “The water quality improvements that will come from the taking down the fish-blocking dams will also significantly improve struggling salmon runs on the Klamath.”

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

Rainfall By year

Annual rainfall totals recorded at the National Weather Service’s Woodley Island station in Eureka during the past six years:

• 2016-17*: 63.84 inches

• 2015-16: 48.08 inches

• 2014-15: 31.5 inches

• 2013-14: 21.02 inches

• 2012-13: 34.75 inches

• 2011-12: 41.01 inches

• 30-year average: 40.33 inches

* Rainfall total is from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 27, 2017.

Source: National Water Service hydrologist Reginald Kennedy