Waterway commission issues warning on raging St. Croix River

Water flows over South Street in Calais on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.
Robert Posick
Water flows over South Street in Calais on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.
Posted July 30, 2013, at 6:19 p.m.
Last modified July 31, 2013, at 8:56 a.m.
Heavy rain and runoff washed out the road to the city transfer station, located off South Street in Calais, on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.
Robert Posick
Heavy rain and runoff washed out the road to the city transfer station, located off South Street in Calais, on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.
An unidentified Calais employee examines the damage below the surface of the road to the city transfer station shortly after heavy rain and runoff washed out the roadway on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.
Robert Posick
An unidentified Calais employee examines the damage below the surface of the road to the city transfer station shortly after heavy rain and runoff washed out the roadway on Friday, July 26. Several roads in the city were flooded and damaged as more than 6 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours between Thursday and Friday nights.

CALAIS, Maine — The St. Croix International Waterway Commission advised outdoor enthusiasts on Tuesday to use “extreme caution” in navigating the river because of high water levels and flows.

Heavy rainfall last week, which caused flooding and damaged roads in Calais and on the Canadian side of the river, is still making its way down the St. Croix, according to Abby Pond, executive director of the commission. As a result, water flows are about double what they normally would be this time of year, Pond said.

“Flow rates have been going up and up this week,” she said.

“People may think it’s been four or five days since the rain,” added Pond, but the river is “incredibly high and powerful.”

“The rapids in Milltown are just roaring,” Pond said of the New Brunswick community located about two miles upriver from Calais.

Todd Foisy, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Caribou, reported that 6.09 inches of rain fell in the Baring area — about 5 miles west of Calais — in less than 24 hours beginning Thursday night and continuing into Friday night. It was the most rainfall reported anywhere in Maine during the period, said Foisy.

Water flows out of the Vanceboro dam topped 2,000 cubic feet per second, reported Pond, and the volume increases as tributaries join the river. Normal flows this time of year are usually between 700 and 900 cubic feet per second. (Gauge data can be viewed at http://www.americanwhitewater.org/gauges/id/10/.)

“The St. Croix International Waterway Commission is asking paddlers, tubers and boaters of all kinds to exercise extreme caution around the river at this time,” the agency said in a news release issued Tuesday.

The commission later updated its news release to urge people to postpone activities on the river until water levels recede and conditions are safer. “If you do decide to make a trip, leave a trip plan with someone at home or with the SCIWC so that someone will be aware of your activities,” the panel said in its revised announcement.

“It is important to check the water flow information before you go on the river,” Pond said in the commission’s news release. “Even if you have paddled the river before, it changes completely at high flows such as we are experiencing now. This type of water makes any kind of water activity riskier. If you’re in a tube in particular, you may not be able to touch bottom or stand in this type of flow, increasing your risk of injury and drowning.”

With the sunny weather forecast for later this week, water flows should be closer to normal in time for the weekend, according to Pond, but she advised people who are planning activities on the river to keep an eye on both the forecast and the water gauge.

This time of the week, an estimated 50-100 people are typically on the river — canoeing, kayaking, tubing — between Vanceboro and Loon Bay near Dyer, according to Pond. The number peaks to about 200-300 per day on weekends, she said. In addition, Canadians are looking forward to a long holiday weekend — Monday is New Brunswick Day — and it is usually one of the busiest of the year on the river, according to Pond.

Woodland Pulp in Baileyville controls the water flows at dams on the river in Baileyville, Vanceboro, and Grand Falls, noted Pond, who was expecting flows to stay high for several days but hoped they would be reduced by the weekend.

Heavy rainfall last week in the region of Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, both flooded and damaged roads. Damage to roads in Charlotte County (Canada) was estimated at about $750,000, reported Pond, with some rural roads still closed because they were washed out.

Damage to roads in Calais was estimated at about $40,000, city manager Diane Barnes said Tuesday.

About six roads were damaged in multiple areas, said Robert Posick, fire chief and emergency management director for Calais. The city closed Main Street and North Street to incoming traffic roughly from 8-11 p.m. Friday because of flooding, he said. Also, the traffic circle preceding the bridge entering Canada was temporarily closed because of flooding.

Elsewhere in the region, damage to state highways was characterized as minor, according to a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation.

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