Columbia River dams storing water to help ease river flooding in wake of heavy NW rains

By OPB staff (OPB)
June 12, 2022 3:51 p.m. Updated: June 13, 2022 3:01 p.m.

Heavy rains across the Pacific Northwest spurred concerns about minor flooding and landslides in parts of Oregon.

Federal water managers are increasing water storage behind the John Day Dam in northeastern Oregon to help with water levels further down the Columbia River Basin.


“This precipitation has fallen on our mountain snowpack which has added even more water into our river systems,” said Steve Barton of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a press release.

Barton said several points throughout the basin will reach flood stage.

“Of primary concern to us at this point is public safety,” he said. “This system of dams was built primarily to protect the public from catastrophic floods. While we cannot prevent all flooding, we can take steps to minimize the impacts of these powerful weather events.”

Rising water levels in the Willamette River closed a portion of Portland’s popular multi-use path, the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, from the Morrison Bridge to the Steel Bridge. City officials say it could remain closed for several days. The river is expected to rise to 15.5 feet.


The Columbia River also rose over the weekend, reaching 15.6 feet by mid-Sunday. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning along the river from Vancouver to Longview.

Flood stage in Vancouver is 16 feet (4.87 meters), and forecasters say river levels will approach that level repeatedly through late Wednesday morning. At 16 feet, minor flooding occurs, affecting islands and low-lying areas, with minor impacts on parks or trails along the river, according to the National Weather Service.

The NWS also issued a flood watch for much of northeastern Oregon through Sunday night. Officials warned people to be on the lookout for potential landslides.

Landslides can occur near steep terrain, especially near burned areas from recent wildfires, and they can move faster than a person can run.

Emergency officials are warning swimmers to stay away from local rivers in the coming days, as the rainfall could cause river swelling and rapid currents.

Firefighters in Ridgefield, Washington, rescued a man and his two daughters Saturday afternoon after their boat capsized in the Lewis River. The boat had struck a collection of trees in the river before it capsized. The man was able to hang on to his 8-year-old daughter after they were thrown into the water, but his 12-year-old daughter was sent downstream. All three were rescued from the river in stable condition. Rescue crews say the two girls were wearing flotation devices, which likely saved their lives.

Heavy rain between April and June has already made it the wettest year for that period on record since 1940, according to NWS Portland. Monitors at the Portland International Airport measured 12.23 inches of rain as of June 11. The previous record was 11.87 inches in 2010.