Walla Walla Council member posts his vision of a new Mill Creek through the city

Walla Walla City Council member Alan Pomeraning said his ideas for Mill Creek were inspired by the development such as this one in San Antonio, Texas.

Walla Walla City Council member Alan Pomeraning said his ideas for Mill Creek were inspired by the development such as this one in San Antonio, Texas. Wikimedia commons photo

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WALLA WALLA — City Council member Allen Pomraning is making good on a campaign promise to think outside the box by offering a way he thinks could resolve issues with the deteriorating Mill Creek flood channel — reroute the creek from underground to outside on a “repurposed” street.

“My vision is to re-channel Mill Creek into a fish friendly 9,000 CFS (cubic feet of water per second) daylight, rock strewn sinuous channel down a repurposed Walla Walla city street and Port of Walla Walla property,” Pomraning recently posted on his personal Facebook page.

He describes how part of the new Mill Creek could be lined with tourist-friendly restaurants and shops, while the creek would be turned into a fish-friendly stream that would support birds, salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

The project also could include an environmental restoration center in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Bennington Lake would benefit from his plan because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would no longer have to draw water from the lake for flood control because the old flood channel would be used for overflow, he said.

Even downtown parking would be increased, added Pomraning, a retired project manager for the Corps.

As for which streets could be repurposed to become an open waterway, he said the historical path of Mill Creek has, at times, run along where Pine, Rose and Alder streets are now.

“Of course it ran on Main Street once, but (repurposing) that will never go over,” Pomraning said.

His Facebook post caught the attention of a number of officials with the city, county and Corps.

“I have served on Council 20-something years and I have seen a lot of (communication) styles,” Mayor Jerry Cummins said.

Cummins said there is already a Mill Creek Coalition studying solutions to fix the deteriorating flood channel structures. The coalition — consisting of county, city and Port officials and the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation — was formed last year to address the failing infrastructure of the 71-year-old flood channel completed in 1943.

In recent years, cracks in concrete and the closing of parking lots over Mill Creek tunnels have raised concern over structural integrity.

In a report from last July, the coalition said it believes Mill Creek flood-control structures are sound enough to meet flood control demands, but the coalition said a more aggressive maintenance program and more studies were needed within the next five years.

“I would think that a cooperative approach would be to look at the alternative approaches with the coalition that was selected to look it,” Cummins said, referring to Pomraning’s Facebook posting. “That would be a way to bring public interests without bringing public fear over what could happen.”

Pomraning conceded his idea, at best, was an initial concept that lacked any funding but he hoped it would get people talking.

“This is a new concept for the city (and) at this time we have zero budget and we have not applied for any funding,” Pomraning said.

Pomraning told the Union-Bulletin in an interview that funding improvements to the downtown portion of the current flood channel will prove complicated, if not impossible, because of the various entities that have either authority or ownership of the structures.

Those entities include private property owners who own the covered portions of the creek; the flood-control district, which manages the ground portion of the creek; and the Corps, which has authority over the vertical walls, embankments and Bennington Lake.

Corps officials said they were caught off guard by Pomraning’s Facebook suggestion.

“Your email on the Mill Creek Channel Naturalization was forwarded to me and caught me by surprise,” Rebecca Kalamasz, local Army Corps planning chief, wrote to Pomraning just hours after his March 14 post.

Gina Baltrusch, the Corps’ Walla Walla District public affairs specialist, added that Kalamasz’ email response was a “reaching out” to see if Pomraning had brought his ideas to the attention of the Mill Creek Coalition and if he was open to a future meeting to discuss his proposal.

Turning waterways into recreational or even retail areas while still providing effective flood control is not a new concept.

Baltrusch said the Corps has been involved in these projects, including a smaller project in Caldwell, Idaho, on Indian Creek. But such projects must fall within the continuing authorities or parameters of Corps’ directives.

Pomraning noted his idea would alleviate funding problems that derive from multiple ownership. He also noted that salmon recovery money could be used to fund some of the project if the new waterway was built with fish passage engineering.

“San Antonio. That is my vision, the San Antonio model, where you have restaurants and boutique stores and tourists,” Pomraning said.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is a successful metropolitan flood-control project on the San Antonio River that was approved by Congress in 1938, the same year funding for the Mill Creek flood channel was approved. Over the past 70 years the Riverwalk has been updated a number of times to create more retail frontage and a major tourism attraction.

The Mill Creek Flood District stretches about six miles from near Rooks Park to the Gose Street bridge. Roughly two miles of the flood channel comprise vertical concrete embankments and tunnels through the downtown corridor. Waterflows in the channel are controlled by diverting water out of Mill Creek and into Bennington Lake during high runoff.

You can find Pomraning’s posting via his Facebook page.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

Comments

mspinks 4 months, 1 week ago

hhhmmm...... seems like one of the candidates in the recent race for County Commissioner touted this idea.

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namvet60 4 months, 1 week ago

It seems that Mr Pomraning does quite a bit of thinking outside the box - I guess he got tired of listening to his constituents?

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Bigdog 4 months, 1 week ago

Thinking outside the box is fine when appropriate. This very expensive project is coming from a council member who (despite the majority opinion of constituents), voted NO to maintain and keep open the Pioneer Park aviary. The cost of doing that would probably be less than what the consultant and study costs would be for this new proposal. From the aviary debacle, a lesson should be learned. It is time to freeze salaries at city hall, cut other expenses, and NOT live beyond our means – just like each of us would do in our own personal financial lives. Nothing wrong with dreaming BIG, but now is not the time.

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RetiredinWW 4 months, 1 week ago

Wow! It happened so fast! I was afraid that the legalization of marijuana would lead to thoughts like this. Hey, Allen! How about applying your time, talents, and engineering skills to fixing a few of the rutted wagon paths people laughingly refer to as "streets" before we start on creating a new Venice or San Antonio. The folks that come to town are not looking for canals, and they really do not like to have the alignment of their Lexus, Mercedes or BMW altered by our potholes and crumbling pavement!

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mspinks 4 months, 1 week ago

There is nothing wrong with this vision and this town needs more " thinking out of the box" ideas!

Pomraning is not suggesting breaking ground tomorrow... but instead visualizing this city with a Riverwalk like setting in place. Tourism dollars flow into San Antonio because of the Riverwalk and the same could happen here.

Budget woes, horrible roads, the Aviary, etc. could all be things of the past with the new taxes we would receive.

It's all about long term planning.....something seriously lacking in this county.

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RetiredinWW 4 months, 1 week ago

9000cfs? At the time I write this, Mill Creek is under 140 CFS, and the Walla walla River is below 1100cfs. 9000 CFS is almost one third of the current flow of the Snake past Anatone right now. What is his plan, to divert the Snake into Walla Walla? This is not thinking outside the box, it is somewhere in hyperspace, especially when there are so many other issues that need to be addressed!

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GeneandCassie 4 months, 1 week ago

The physical settings of Mill Creek in Walla Walla and the river in San Antonio, Texas; are quite different. Closely compare the pictures of each in tonight's (03-24-2014) UB; note the tranquil flow conditions in San Antonio's river as contrasted to the numerous standing waves noted in Mill Creek.

Mill Creek is quite a steep stream; flowing through Walla Walla on an alluvial fan; a physical feature which is noted for its unpredictable nature with respect to large stream flows; especially during large flood events like experienced in February 1996.

A better comparison for Mill Creek, with respect to its physical location, might be to the Los Angeles River in California; which also is flowing on an alluvial fan. Based on the reading I have done about this particular river, during a flood event it could potentially change its physical location by miles or tens of miles; depending upon specific conditions during the particular flood event.

Closely coexisting with a river on an alluvial fan is a tough and costly undertaking; especially with one having the large range of flow conditions/discharges which both Mill Creek and the Los Angeles River can experience.

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mspinks 4 months, 1 week ago

You looked at a picture and came up with your conclusion?

The San Antonio Riverwalk is not a real river, but a man-made flood control system.

http://www.asce.org/People-and-Projects/Projects/Landmarks/San-Antonio-River-Walk---Flood-Control-System/

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GeneandCassie 4 months, 1 week ago

Link to a map of San Antonio Riverwalk; gives some perspective of the project area:

http://www.sanantonioriver.org/images/SARIP-map/SARIP%20Full%20Map-web2.pdf

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mspinks 4 months, 1 week ago

Imagine having a smaller version of the Riverwalk here. A city of "many waters" would finally live up to its name. It's all about baby steps, but you have to start somewhere. That start would be with the corp of engineers rerouting Mill Creek for improved flood control and surrounding it with commercial use land.

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PearlY 4 months, 1 week ago

I have no idea whether this suggestion is technically feasible but having recently visited the San Antonio Riverwalk I can say it's a huge attraction and the idea deserves at least some consideration.

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chicoli 4 months, 1 week ago

A CASE FOR MILL CREEK BRIDGES

Back in 1958 I was doing my US Air Force basic training in San Antonio. The River Walk was just an idilic park. No hotels or restaurants were around, just trails, trees and flower beds. Since then I've been to San Antonio River Walk many times, and saw it evolved to what is now a first class tourist destination.

When I came to Walla Walla back in 1989, one of my first memories was that of the River Walk in San Antonio, and the idea of a similar project for Walla Walla dawn on me. But what I payed most attention, as a more feasible project, was to restoration and beautification of the multiple bridges over Mill Creek. There are quite charming views and perspective from such bridges, some of them with picturesque foliage and interesting walls.

To make it a community project I envisioned private enterprises "adopting" a bridge by submitting a design, including financial support to a designated committee for selection. The creek borders and walls could be equally "landscaped" with planters, etc.

As we now have posters with Walla Walla Churches, we could possible design others with "Walla Walla Bridges" as guide for tourists and local citizens to visit and enjoy.

We are lucky to have so many talented artistic and generous people capable of wonderful suggestions for such a project.

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barracuda 4 months ago

Almost all of these bridges over Mill Creek are going to be replaced, or need to be replaced. Load restrictions are already in place due to state of decay and age.

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GeneandCassie 4 months, 1 week ago

Our 'many waters' are found within the vicinity at various locations.....

Mill Creek, Titus Creek, Garrison Creek, Yellowhawk Creek, Caldwell Creek, Stone Creek, Bryant Creek, to name a few....

But the valley is also semi arid; getting about half the annual precipitation which San Antonio gets....

And the 'many waters' flow over an alluvial fan which is quite porous; I believe San Antonio's water might flow over silts and clays......

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adpomraning 4 months ago

Friends: I am listening with an open mind. (1) My first priority committment to the community is to upgrade the condition of our infrastructure: Streets, water systems, sewer systems, and continue to provide the excellent level of service we have with services like police, fire, emergency, parks, library, solid waste... Meanwhile the overall condition of the streets measureably continues to decline. At every vote, every opportunity, I will carefully weigh the value-to-citizens of the program being funded against the continuing decay of streets. The City Public Works Department needs more street funding. It is simple - creating street funding is not magic, it is priorities. (2) Correct - Repair of the Mill Creek Flood Control System that protects the Walla Walla Valley is a long term community committment which will require years for a flood control feasibility study. Time to begin. Allen Pomraning, Walla Walla City Council Member

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GeneandCassie 4 months ago

Its interesting to compare San Antonio and Walla Walla; especially with respect to climate:

In June, San Antonio averages over four inches of precipitation; and this also is it's wettest average month; over the summer (June-September) it gets 11 inches of precipitation on the average....

Over the summer, Walla Walla gets a little over three inches of precipitation on the average....

Getting adequate water supplies here during the summer for water attractions might be an interesting problem.....

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mspinks 4 months ago

What you see is not the actual San Antonio river. These are man made canals dredged off of that river that are kept at a constant level using flood gates.

http://www.sanantonioinsider.com/hotels/hotel%20map1.gif

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funkcl 4 months ago

I have been involved with Walla Walla for over 50 years. I also lived in Texas for 4 years. My five favorite destinations in Texas included the River Walk in San Antonio. It is a very festive area and draws millions of tourists every year.

It appears to me that the goal is to make Walla Walla a tourist destination with wineries, high-end restaurants and hotels. Our beautiful small town is already wonderful, but having an attraction like a River Walk or something similar, would certainly give us bragging rights.

Do you truly believe that building a flying machine or having a computer on every desk wasn't thinking outside of the BOX? I am certain that we would have scoffed at them, also.

Gene Funk

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GeneandCassie 4 months ago

In a few months, say July or August 2014, take a downtown walk over all the downtown Mill Creek bridges; gaze at the small creek trickling below each bridge; and ponder where the water for supplying the WaterWalk project will come from during the hot and dry summer months here.

Its a valid question.

Perhaps we could pump and pipe the water from the Columbia. Definitely do-able; given the money to construct and operate.

But on the other hand, back to reality, a much smaller amount of money appears not presently available to keep an already existing Aviary going........

This also is a valid concern.

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mspinks 4 months ago

Are you reading the links posted? This has nothing to do with water flow from Mill Creek. Once the water is in the canal system...it stays there via flood gates. It's like Bennington Lake.

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GeneandCassie 4 months ago

Yes, I've previously looked at the links provided. Thanks.

Given Walla Walla's hot summer temperatures and low humidity, I would expect water to be evaporated from the RiverWalk system; and thus the RiverWalk would likely need to have water added throughout the summer from some source to make up for this evaporation loss.

I'd also expect that water left in a closed uncirculated canal all summer might get somewhat interestingly colored by the end of the summer. Might be better to have replacement water continuously flowing into and out of the canal to deal with both of these issues.

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mspinks 4 months ago

Just as hot if not hotter in Texas during the summer time. Evaporation would be the least of concerns. If water was needed, that's what Bennington Lake holds.

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GeneandCassie 4 months ago

Personally, I'd rather hang out at Pioneer Park on a hot summer day; under the large trees; listen to the Aviary birds.

It already has a pond; a creek; etc; to walk around and enjoy. Really a nice facility overall. We are fortunate to have it.

But we seemingly can't afford to maintain portions of this facility anymore; even with it already being constructed.......

The Park used to have a water attraction nearby too; something for people to swim in...... for some reason it isn't there anymore either.....

Hopefully the Downtown Creek Walk will turn our fortunes around and the money coffers will overflow.....

Build it and they will come as the saying goes......

Then comes the facility maintenance.....

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adpomraning 4 months ago

Friends; I am listening with an open mind. I sense there are some engineers in this discussion, so lets talk a bit of basic hydrology. Yes, Texas and Washington are quite different - soil, climate, and the slope of the downtown area being served. However we have a nearby mountain watershed.
There is a lot of water in this valley. The issue is not whether we have water, it is who has the water rights to redirect a couple hundred cubic feet per second in the mid summer low-flows to serve a new natural stream that will support tourism, wildlife, shoppers, cool walks on a hot day. I have several water sources in mind, but I would like to see our planning professionals, our engineers, biologists, attorneys, our valley leaders, our citizens all participate in the Feasibility Study process. In a Feasibility Study every opportunity is run to ground, every alternative fact-checked, every recommendation cost estimated, scheduled, and vetted with the community. Later environmental impacts are discussed and balanced. Only then are solid collective decisions made at the local, state, and federal level. Feasibility Studies work for the community. When communities support the recommendations, Federal, State, and local legislators, and the implementing agencies are (eventually) funded for construction.
All it takes is vision, hard work, and perseverance over a 10 year period. So I'll meet you in the riverwalk park for the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2024.
Allen Pomraning :-) Walla Walla City Council Member

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adpomraning 4 months ago

Yikes - bad english typo near the end.
I meant to say "Federal, State, and local legislators eventually fund implementing agencies for construction." Allen

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