Public Works Department Director Justin Northern, left, instructs BOLSTER crew members as they prepare sandbags for possible flooding. Northern said the department has in place a standard operating procedure when it comes to flood assistance. LEE GAVIN | CTUIR COMMUNICATIONS PHOTO

Tribe preps for potential spring flooding



MISSION – With recent rain and snowfall, tribal officials have started to prepare for potential flooding – though they say it isn’t imminent.

Last week, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Public Works staff and BOLSTER crew members began filling sandbags to prepare for possible flooding after recent winter weather started to cause waters to rise in area streams and rivers.

Tribal officials also published public service announcements online encouraging the public to be on the lookout for potential flooding while detailing how the tribe would respond to any flooding, as well as how community members could assist.  

While CTUIR Public Works Director Justin Northern said “there is a possibility that some creeks will be impacted by continued snow melt,” tribal officials don’t believe it will lead to any major flooding soon.

“Several CTUIR departments are monitoring water levels and do not anticipate any flood event,” Northern said in an email last week.

The National Weather Service on Sunday said it expected river levels in the Cascades, eastern Oregon, and locally in the Blue Mountain foothills, to decrease or remain stable through the next couple of days. Forecasters don’t expect any rivers in the area to reach flood stage, but say precipitation predicted for later in the week will likely lead to rising water levels through the weekend.

So far there is only a slight risk projected for the Umatilla River flooding throughout the spring, according to the National Weather Service’s longer-term outlook.

Still, Northern said it’s important for the community to know that the tribe is prepared to address flooding concerns and how it will respond to potential flooding.

“We’re doing our due diligence in preparing for any weather that might be coming our way,” he said in a video posted to the CTUIR’s Facebook page last week, as crew members stacked filled sandbags in the background.

If flooding occurs, the CTUIR Emergency Response Team, which includes other tribal departments, like Public Safety, will activate a standard operating procedure to address it, officials said in the public service announcement posted to the CTUIR website.

How the tribe will respond, as well as the roles certain programs and departments will have, are outlined in a tribal Emergency Operations Plan that was updated last year. That plan also includes tribal response procedures for other destructive events, such as wildfires and earthquakes.

In addition to tribal departments, volunteers will also be called up to assist in activities such as filling sandbags as part of an official flood response. Volunteers will need to report to the Public Works Operations Facility on Bus Barn Lane off Mission Road to receive instructions.

Public Works staff will manage the staging area and sandbagging activities and direct the delivery of equipment and sandbags. The rest of the Emergency Response Team will provide information to tribal leaders so they can update the public about the current situation, according to the information shared online last week.   In the meantime, if anyone is experiencing or notices an immediate flooding concern, they are asked to report it to the Umatilla Tribal Police Department at 541-278-0550.