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Snow melt could flood Fairbanks streets, basements

chena_breakup_by_eric_muehling.jpg
Eric Muehling
/
Used with permission
As photographed by Eric Muehling, the Chena River breaks up on April 23, 2020 in downtown Fairbanks.

As the Interior warms after near-record winter snows, neighborhood flooding can block streets and flood residences. While the state and federal agencies are watching Alaska’s big rivers for flooding, the Fairbanks Stormwater advisory committee is monitoring city streets.

Spring meltwater may threaten homes and businesses on flat, paved streets. The snow is going to make a lot more work for some of us.

“Yeah. This spring has been especially challenging with storm drains, being frozen, um, and large amounts of snow and ice on the roadways,” Andrew Ackerman said.

He is the Environmental Manager for the City of Fairbanks. Crews are trying to open frozen storm drains so melting snow will have some place to go.

“We ask that you'd be patient because we have limited capacity. We have three steamer trucks working full-time. They're actually working overtime right now,” he said.

Ackerman says property owners who anticipate flooding should try to move snow off their property.

“If you can get a contractor, if you have a lot of snow to take that snow away to a snow dump, that's the best solution. But otherwise, if you can get the snow to some location where… a grassy swale or open space. That's another solution.”

Jason Beal is the Emergency Operations Director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. He says homeowners might consider a no-snow zone near walls of buildings.

“If there's big piles that are next to people's houses that sometimes can seep into the crawl spaces or basements, or even creating a little bit of a perimeter,” Beal said.

Both Beal and Ackerman are part of the Fairbanks Stormwater advisory committee with representatives from the borough, the Cities of Fairbanks and North Pole, University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Department of Transportation. The focus is keeping the water that goes down storm drains clean.

“Making sure everyone knows that the storm drain system is tied directly to the Chena River, as well as Noyes Slough and the Chena Slough down in North Pole,” Ackerman said.

Managers remind residents to keep dog feces or debris out of melting snow so it doesn’t end up in the river.

Ackerman says folks who live inside the Fairbanks city limits could call if they get flooding.

“You can call either the public works superintendent or myself to report an imminent threat of flooding, if it's up against your building or your personal property, and we will respond as quickly as possible,” he said.

But those that live outside of Fairbanks and North Pole will need to call their Road Service Area Commissioners.

March has been cooler which has slowed some of the dramatic melting, and April temperatures are forecast to be normal. Beal says they are also keeping an eye on the Chena River, and hope there is no spike to 70 degrees.

“The breakup or the dynamic breakup with the ice in the river, which could also be more towards ice jams. With that type of situation, conditions can deteriorate or change very rapidly and the water levels could rise within minutes,” said Beal.

And speaking of the Chena River, the Tanana Valley Watershed Association is holding a Storm Drain Art Contest to remind us that draining water ends up in the river. People can apply to join the contest on their website: TVwatershed.org anytime before 5 p.m. next Saturday, April 30.

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https://www.tvwatershed.org/enterstormdraincontest

  • Deadline for submissions is 5pm on April 30, 2022.
  • Artists will paint their designs on Lacey Street storm drains on Saturday, June 4th from 9am to 4pm (weather permitting).
  • Winning artists will receive $100 for each design painted.

The next meeting of the FSWAC committee is May 9.