Property owners in Richland, West Richland and Benton City will get earlier warnings about potential flooding dangers along the Yakima River now that officials have changed how they will measure flooding in the area.
Flood stage for the river in Benton County, which is measured at the Kiona Gauge near the Highway 225 bridge in Benton City, remains at 13 feet, said Sara Schwartz, spokeswoman for Benton County Emergency Services.
But officials now say they will issue alerts about moderate flooding when the river is at 14.5 feet. The moderate flood stage was 15 feet, Schwartz said.
The major flood stage also has been lowered from 17.4 feet to 16 feet.
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"It impacts the reaction," she said.
Moderate flooding means roads and buildings near the stream might be damaged and some evacuations of people or property to higher elevations might be recommended.
If the river hits the major flood stage, it means extensive flood damage might occur and significant evacuations might be required.
The changes were made after officials from Benton County Emergency Management and the National Weather Service reviewed past floods, Schwartz said.
When the Yakima River flooded in January 2009, cresting at 15.5 feet, about 30 homes sustained flood damage and dozens more would have been damaged if the river had risen 6 more inches, Schwartz said.
Flooding right now is not a concern, because the river level as of 6 p.m. Wednesday was 4.8 feet.
However, the Yakima River is subject to frequent flooding in the spring or because of a sudden winter thaw with warm, heavy rainfall after heavy snow in the mountains and valleys, Schwartz said.
She said now is a perfect time for homeowners who live in a flood plain to determine their flooding risk, make an emergency plan and consider purchasing flood insurance.
Standard homeowner insurance policies don't cover flood damage, and there typically is a 30-day waiting period from the date of purchase for flood coverage to go into effect, she said.
Residents can contact their city or county planning departments to determine if they live in a flood plain.
They also can check their risk on the Flood Smart website, floodsmart.gov, which is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program.