In 2016, the city of Mount Vernon completed construction of a flood wall aimed at protecting homes and businesses from the capricious waters of the Skagit River, which bisects its quaint downtown.
That flood wall is about to be tested like never before.
Days of relentless rain have sent the river over its banks to levels not seen in more than a decade, before the wall was built, and the water is still rising, according to city and Skagit County officials.
The river is currently running at just under 32 feet at Mount Vernon and is expected to crest sometime Tuesday at an estimated record of 37.6 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The wall was built to contain a flood of up to 38 feet, said Mount Vernon Project Manager Peter Donovan.
“That’s not a lot of wiggle room,” he said. “It’s never been tested at that level. We are in uncharted territory.”
So far, the wall has worked. Donovan said no city businesses or homes have been damaged, although residents and business owners are urged to prepare for the worst. He said the city is currently going door to door in the neighborhoods on the west side of the river — the city and flood wall are on the east side — asking the roughly 800 residents who live there to voluntarily evacuate.
In the meantime, the county has set up sites with bags and sand throughout the county. Residents need only bring a shovel, said Skagit County public information officer Laura Han.
“We are really hopeful that all will be well,” Han said Monday. “But the forecast is wobbly. A lot can happen. Climate change, you know.”
As of noon on Monday, the National Weather Service said to expect severe flooding along the Skagit River between Sedro-Woolley and Mount Vernon.
Upstream, in Concrete, the river level as of noon was recorded at 38.5 feet, down about one-tenth of a foot from measurements two hours earlier, the weather service said. Han said it is “tentatively hoped” that the Skagit River at Concrete has crested and will now begin to fall.
Han said officials have not seen this much water flowing through the Skagit since the massive floods of 2009. As of noon Tuesday, the town of Marblemount, population 68, is cut off, Han said, and nearby Hamilton’s residents voluntarily evacuated last night.