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20-006 The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mill Creek Flood Control Project Again Protected the City of Walla Walla From Devastation

Published Feb. 12, 2020
Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers greets Walla Walla City workers who are monitoring the Mill Creek Channel.

Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers greets Walla Walla City workers who are monitoring the Mill Creek Channel.

Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers Emergency Operation Center with Corps staff managing the Mill Creek Channel flows.

Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers Emergency Operation Center with Corps staff managing the Mill Creek Channel flows.

Natural Resources Manager Chris Alford monitoring Mill Creek flows.

Natural Resources Manager Chris Alford monitoring Mill Creek flows.

Justin Stegall, Mill Creek Project Manager for the Walla Walla Corps of Engineers, briefs Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, and Walla Walla County Commissioners Todd Kimball and Greg Tompkins on the status of the Mill Creek Channel.

Justin Stegall, Mill Creek Project Manager for the Walla Walla Corps of Engineers, briefs Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, and Walla Walla County Commissioners Todd Kimball and Greg Tompkins on the status of the Mill Creek Channel.

Due to continuous rains, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials have increased water flows into Mill Creek to 3,900 cubic feet per second. Although the public will see a substantial increase in water flowing through Mill Creek and Walla Walla, the Mill Creek channel is operating as intended and Corps officials are continuously monitoring its water levels. Meanwhile, Corps officials continue to divert water into Bennington Lake which is closed to public access until further notice. As a precaution, Corps officials are asking the public to avoid levees, high water areas and Bennington Lake.

Due to continuous rains, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials have increased water flows into Mill Creek to 3,900 cubic feet per second. Although the public will see a substantial increase in water flowing through Mill Creek and Walla Walla, the Mill Creek channel is operating as intended and Corps officials are continuously monitoring its water levels. Meanwhile, Corps officials continue to divert water into Bennington Lake which is closed to public access until further notice. As a precaution, Corps officials are asking the public to avoid levees, high water areas and Bennington Lake.

County Commissioners Todd Kimball and Greg Tompkins and Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, travel along the Mill Creek Channel.

County Commissioners Todd Kimball and Greg Tompkins and Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, travel along the Mill Creek Channel.

Corps official monitoring flows in the Mill Creek Channel.

Corps official monitoring flows in the Mill Creek Channel.

Walla Walla County Command Center.

Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, at the Walla Walla County Command Center.

Engineer Alex Hammond, a Dam and Levee Safety Manager for the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers monitors Bennington Lake levels.

Engineer Alex Hammond, a Dam and Levee Safety Manager for the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers monitors Bennington Lake levels.

Project staff clearing debris from Russell Creek canal, Feb. 11.
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Project staff clearing debris from Russell Creek canal, Feb. 11.

Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, and the District's Chief of Engineering, Dwayne Weston, oversee Russel Creek in Walla Walla.
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Lt. Col. Christian Dietz, Commander of the Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers, and the District's Chief of Engineering, Dwayne Weston, oversee Russel Creek in Walla Walla.

Last week’s historic flash flood of Mill Creek was devastating for many of our neighbors in the Walla Walla Valley, but the City of Walla Walla was again spared from the ruinous damage of 6,000 cubic feet per second of floodwater raging through the city.  As we recover from the storm and prepare for the future, we should pause to remember the vision of city leaders such as Virgil Bennington, the ingenuity of an earlier generation of U.S. Army engineers, and the dedicated professionals who operate today’s Mill Creek Project.

After the Mill Creek Flood of 1931 severely damaged the city center, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce President Virgil Bennington and community leaders petitioned the U.S. Congress to design and construct a flood control project to protect the city.  Congress authorized the Mill Creek Project in the Flood Control Act of 1938, and in 1942 completed the inventive system of diversion dams and off-stream storage.   Walla Walla thrives as a city today in its current location, in part, because of this project. 

The Mill Creek Project is simple in concept; minimize flood risk to the downtown by moving water quickly through the city using efficient concrete channels and divert any flows above 3,800 cubic-feet-per-second into a man-made lake (now called Bennington Lake) for enough time to let the flash flood subside.   Engineers analyzed earlier Mill Creek flood events and learned that while the flows are furious, they are relatively short in duration.  Ninety years after this system’s design, the Mill Creek Project continues to function as designed (despite not having the hydrologic modeling tools we have today).

Corps’ projects of this nature mitigate flood risk, they don’t eliminate flood risk.  This recent flood was dangerous with flows above town exceeding 6,000 cfs.  We came within 11 hours of reaching the diversion capacity of Bennington Lake, which was 80% full on Friday afternoon when Mill Creek finally subsided below 3,500 cfs.   If the rain and warm temperatures had continued into late Saturday, we would have filled the reservoir and had no choice but to send flows from 5,000 cfs to 6,000 cfs through the city, overwhelming the channel and flooding hundreds of homes and businesses.  

In 2019, Walla Walla’s civic leaders continued to honor the vision of Virgil Bennington by partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to initiate a study that will recommend a cost-effective way of rehabilitating and improving the Mill Creek Project and the flood control channel through downtown Walla Walla.   In a remarkable coincidence, the public meeting to discuss this study is Wednesday, February 12th, at 5:30 PM at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel on Rose Street.   I invite you to join us, share your comments, and influence future Walla Walla flood protection.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Christian Dietz, Commander, Walla Walla District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Contact
CENWW-PA
509-527-7020
cenww-pa@usace.army.mil

Release no. 20-006