Originally Published: January 27, 2010 8:51 a.m.
The Agua Fria River and Black Canyon Creek came together last week to create some of the worst flooding in recorded history in Black Canyon City.
The National Weather Service had predicted the possibility of 5-10 inches of rain in three storms last week, and local rain gauges indicated near the 10-inch total with 6.75 inches occurring Thursday through early Friday morning.
The storms brought water roaring through the community, battering the Agua Fria Bridge on Old Black Canyon Highway, devastating the River's Edge RV Park, and obliterating several arterial river crossings.
Authorities deemed the bridge safe on Monday and reopened it for traffic.
"The waters never came over the top of the bridge," Birch said. "However, the river was flowing at a record rate and all kinds of debris and large items were hitting and banging into the bridge. (We decided) the bridge would have to be inspected before it could be reopened."
The Black Canyon Fire Department planned early, distributing and posting information on the potential flooding on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
"We had already established that an evacuation center would be opened on Thursday at Cañon School; set up a livestock and small animal evacuation center with Babs Sanders; established the use of the Meals-on-Wheels van to assist anyone with disabilities in need of transportation and offered sand and sandbags at the fire station," said BCFD Chief Tom Birch.
The Agua Fria and Black Canyon Creek were both flowing at record levels as the rain and winds continued on Thursday evening. Shortly before 9 p.m., the level of the Agua Fria near the Squaw Valley Road river crossing and the Black Canyon Creek at River's Edge RV Park both began to surge, swell and widen.
Many of the 75 residents at River's Edge already had evacuated; however, many still remained Thursday evening and were attempting to move trailers and belongings from the park, next to the Agua Fria and Black Canyon Creek.
The BCFD and Yavapai County Sheriff deputies began evacuation notifications to residents in the low-lying areas on both sides of the Agua Fria near the Squaw Valley Road crossing as well as possible flood areas on the west side of I-17.
The Yavapai County Emergency Management reverse 911 system was also used to notify residents of the immediate danger.
"The evacuation was voluntary," said Chief Birch. "However, if someone did not want to leave, they were advised that we might not be able to come back to help them."
The Agua Fria River crested Thursday at 11 p.m. at a record 27.91 feet at the Rock Springs gauging station. Flood stage is 15 feet and the previous record flow of 27.20 feet was during the flood of 1978, which took out the new Agua Fria bridges on Interstate 17. No record exists of the flow on the Black Canyon Creek, but observers thought the creek was running as high or higher than the Agua Fria.
The raging waters completely devastated the River's Edge RV Park. The water flowed over the private bridge next to the historic property used as the stage stop in the early 1900s and swirled throughout the park to about a 6-foot depth everywhere. What the flood did not remove, it destroyed or covered in mounds of silt.
On the east side of BCC the Agua Fria roared down from the canyons and left its banks east of the Squaw Valley crossing flowing across the areas of Riverbend, Squaw Valley Pkwy., Green Valley, Indian Hills and Park Lane. Shortly after the residents received word of immediate flooding the river was already flowing south on Park Lane.
"The river rose and widened dramatically in a very short time," Birch continued. "We went into that area attempting to advise all residents to leave at once."
Around midnight the flow was so high and swift that residents could not drive from their homes. Richard Sanderson of BCC Archery provided a boat for rescuers' use.
Rescuers brought 18 people to safety by boat from the Indian Hills, Green Valley, area in the next few hours. The last person to be rescued was Beverly Barnaby from Green Valley.
"I've lived here 25 years," Barnaby said. "I estimate about three feet of water surrounded my house when I was taken by boat to the ambulance and then to the Red Cross shelter at the school."
This was a first-time flooding for many in this low-lying area north of the Agua Fria. Ron White has lived for 15 years on Squaw Valley Pkwy. and has never had his property underwater.
"I had about three feet of water rush through here, destroying much of my property. There is silt and debris everywhere. My fence is down and I have exposed electric and gas lines. A mobile home recently was placed across the street from my property and a natural wash eliminated, which I think contributed to this flooding," he said.
Walt Forbis, 10-year BCC resident on Riverbed Road, had more than 18 inches of swift moving water on his property. "It was moving so fast and forceful I had to use a stick to help keep me upright," he said.
Other residents of the area echoed the same experiences. Water flowed for a depth of eight inches to several feet throughout the area for several hours.
Rescuers evacuated a total of about 200 BCC residents and 80 took refuge at the Red Cross shelter at the school.
On Saturday residents were trying to access the damage and clean up what they could. However, at River's Edge the future is unknown. Owner Steve Phillips is not sure what can be done to rescue the property, trailers, vehicles or belongings that are covered in several feet of river silt.
The Black Canyon Creek widened at the Maren Ave. crossing and ate away much of the land and road on the east side of the crossing, as well as destroying the BCCWID water line that was 7.5 feet below the surface and encased in concrete.
About 30 residents on the west side of the creek on Maren Ave. and Lisa Drive are isolated and have no running water. The National Guard dropped 20 - 30 cases of drinking water on Friday.
When the creek bed dries enough, the water company will trench another permanent water line about 15 feet below the streambed.
County officials have no estimate as to when they will be able to establish some sort of crossing for the affected area.
Ironically, Babs Sanders, who was prepared to assist anyone with their animals during the evacuation had to do her own evacuation.
"The Black Canyon Creek flowed eight inches of water through my house. I had to take my animals and evacuate myself," Sanders said. "I have lived here since 1979 and this is the first time I've been flooded."