Taku flood does scant damage

High waters came into yards of some cabins, but fell rapidly

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2001

A warning for minor flooding issued for the Taku River south of Juneau on Thursday did not result in catastrophe for recreational users.

"It never came over the banks," said Penny Miller of Juneau. Miller and her husband, Larry, own a cabin on the river. They heard from neighbors on the river that the water level had "spiked," that it "went up and went down again Friday."

"Some people did have water coming up into their yards," Miller said.

The Millers boated out to their cabin Saturday night and returned to town Sunday night without incident.

"It's no big deal for us so we were surprised to hear it on the (radio) news," Miller said. "It's a situation we face every year."

In the 15-plus years the Millers have had a cabin on the Taku, their property there has suffered no severe damage, she said.

"Sometimes we could take our boat right up to the front deck - but never inside," she joked.

Like many of the other 60 or so residents with cabins in the area, Rhonda Pasquan keeps an eye on a graph on a U.S. Geological Survey Web site that keeps tabs on river flow. Pasquan, an insurance agent in Juneau, has had a cabin on the Taku for 25 years.

The USGS graph showed the river peaking at 3:30 p.m. Friday with a current flow of 77,000 cubic feet per second. The average flow is 25,570.

"Last year it was 90,000 cubic feet, and it was pretty serious," Pasquan said.

Her cabin is set higher than others. As a result, this year she experienced just a few puddles in the back yard. Water coming over the banks during the flash flood is not the worst of it, she added. "Mainly we have to watch for those 100-foot trees that come down and take out our dock. It can be exciting - and scary."

The river typically floods once a year in July or August, or sometimes in September, senior forecaster Jim Truitt of the National Weather Service said this morning. The flood is caused by the giving way of an ice dam on a glacial lake encompassed by the Tulsequah Glacier. The ice dam began dissolving on Wednesday into the Tulsequah River, which flows into the Taku near the Canadian border.

Because water levels in the Taku rose two feet in a 24-hour period, the Weather Service issued a warning Thursday.

Forecaster Aimee Devaris said that when the ice dam breaks, the flow from the Taku River generally doubles or triples during a two- or three-day period. The peak level can be eight feet above average. Thus, boaters, fishermen and cabin owners were alerted to watch for logs and other debris rushing downstream and into Taku Inlet, a 20-mile-long fjord and popular fishing area 13 miles southeast of Juneau.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.

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