BENTON CITY — Rising water in the Yakima River spilled over its banks and continued to flood low-lying pastures and streets Tuesday in the west end of Benton County.
The river is expected to crest around 16 feet by midday today at the Kiona gauge in Benton City, putting it 3 feet above flood stage.
People living in Richland and West Richland will see the river crest later in the day -- typically about four to six hours after it reaches the high point in Benton City, officials said.
Widespread flooding of farmland, roads and residential areas from Prosser to the Columbia River are expected when the river hits 16 feet.
If the river reaches its forecast height, it will be the ninth-highest crest on record, according to data kept by the National Weather Service. The highest crest was 21.57 feet in 1933.
The most recent time flood waters came close to 16 feet was in January 2009 when the river reached 15.55 feet.
Richland resident K'Lyn Smith remembers that flood -- her home on Van Giesen Street at Jones Road typically gets turned into an island when the water rises, and in 2009 they had 6 inches of water covering the outside wall of her basement.
"As long as we board it up and sandbag it, the water doesn't get into the basement," Smith said Tuesday after filling up sandbags at the Benton Fire District 4 fire station.
Sand and sandbags were made available at Station 410 on Grosscup Boulevard.
Smith, who rents her home from her parents, said her father has records that go back 30 years on flooding, so they know what steps to take to prepare. She also checks the river levels online at the National Weather Service site.
"Our animals -- horses and goats -- they all move out to my parents' house ... a couple of blocks from here," Smith said.
Smith said she also knows that once the flood waters reach the house, it stays for at least a day, so she was out Tuesday getting necessities because she knows she won't be going anywhere for a couple of days.
"This is the third one this year," she said. "It's getting a little repetitive, but there was a lot of snow in the mountains."
Billie Sue Robinson hasn't been in the area for too long, but she saw the rising water Tuesday and knew it was time to get moving. Robinson is from Priest River, Idaho, but works at Hanford and has lived at the Beach RV Park in Benton City since October.
When the river flooded in January, she took refuge in a friend's driveway for three days and was back there Tuesday.
"The water was already to the pavement this morning, so I decided to come back over here," Robinson said from her temporary home. "I'm on higher ground now."
Robinson said moving her RV is not a problem as long as the water's not in the way. That's why she decided it was better to be safe than sorry and moved Tuesday.
Several others in the lower part of the RV park also moved, but one neighbor was staying put, she said.
Benton County emergency management officials made the rounds Monday to warn residents and give them time to move things to safety.
On Tuesday, officials toured the area to see just how much flooding was occurring, and they plan to return again today, said Sara Schwartz with Benton County Emergency Services.
Both Benton and Yakima counties declared a flood emergency Tuesday, allowing them to use emergency purchasing procedures.
Officials say people should be cautious around the high-flowing river, and motorists should pay attention to signs warning about water over roadways because "it can be deceptively deep," Schwartz said.
Health officials also are warning residents that well water could become contaminated if the well is submerged or has flood waters near it.
Instructions on how to disinfect drinking water and how to safely clean or sanitize the kitchen if it gets flooded, including what foods can be kept and what should be tossed, are available on the Benton-Franklin Health District website at www.bfhd.wa.gov.
-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org