We’ve seen a lot of rain here in the Willamette valley these last few days (about 7 inches from the 17th to the 19th) and this has caused some localized flooding. One surprise has been how quickly the Willamette went from 8 feet to 30 feet, that’s quite a rise for just a couple days!
I’d been watching the water clarity and Oregon City fish counts in anticipation of stalking some winter steelhead but now that the river is running big, muddy, and full of debris, I don’t think fishing will be an option for a while. At this point it looks like the Willamette has crested just shy of 30 feet and it’ll be interesting to see how the gravel bars and channels have changed after this period of high water. Back in 1996 the Willamette crested at 35 feet and the gravel bars and islands moved around quite a bit.
The Willamette at 30 feet isn’t the problem for us here in Salem. For that we have Mill creek which originates in the hills south of Silver Falls and flows through downtown on its way to the Willamette. The early Salem settlers used Mill creek to drive grist and saw mills (hence the name Mill Creek) but there wasn’t always enough water to drive the mills, especially during the low flows of summer. This problem was solved in 1855 by the digging of the Salem ditch which brought additional water from the Santiam river into Mill Creek. In 1864 the pioneers dug another channel off of Mill Creek called the “Millrace” and the millrace was used to power a number of enterprises including the old Thomas Kay Woolen Mill. The millrace empties into the Willamette just south of the acid ball in Riverfront Park and Mill Creek empties into the Willamette River just south of the Truitt Brother’s cannery on Front Street.
It’s been Mill Creek and the millrace overflowing their banks that have caused most of the problems during this recent period of heavy rain.