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Interior Alaska rivers push higher after storm surge

Alaska Dispatch staff
The Chena River rose about 5 feet this week after the rains came, but activating the flood-control gates upstream kept the river from spilling over its banks downtown Thursday, July 3, 2014. Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The storm ended Wednesday, but the aftermath of heavy rain over Interior Alaska pushed rivers and streams to the highest levels in years.

The Chena River in downtown Fairbanks has risen 5 feet since Tuesday but remained about 2 feet below flood stage Thursday because of the flood control project. The water climbed to within 3 feet of the base of the Veterans Memorial Bridge at Barnett Street.

The water levels are the highest in more than a decade in downtown Fairbanks. Low-lying areas in parts of Fairbanks and North Pole saw some flooding, as did areas along Engineer Creek in Fox, Goldstream Creek in the Goldstream Valley and parts of the Chena.

The Army Corps of Engineers activated the Chena River floodgates Wednesday, 35 river miles upriver from Fairbanks. Lowering the 30-ton gates into the river keeps the Chena within its banks downtown, building a temporary reservoir behind the dam. 

The extra water is expected to be released over the weekend after the high water flows into the Tanana. But the floodgates do not prevent all downstream flooding, as some houses are built in low-lying areas.

The Little Chena River, a tributary of the Chena that empties into the larger river downstream from the floodgates, remained 1.4 feet over flood stage Thursday afternoon.

A flood watch was in effect until Saturday for the Tanana River, while flood warnings were posted for the upper Chena River and other tributaries of the Tanana. The Tanana River at Nenana rose just above flood stage to 12.92 feet by midafternoon Thursday. It is expected to crest Friday a bit higher, with minor flooding possible, the National Weather Service said.

At Fairbanks, the Tanana was about 1 foot below flood stage Thursday afternoon.