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Tlaquepaque Village

Some 2,600 years ago, a Greek author penned short moral tales, making it easier for his mainly illiterate nation of sailors, farmers and herders to pass along common sense wisdom to their children. Managing Editor Christopher Fox Graham

We still know his name — Aesop — because after all those centuries, the universal wisdom of his stories is still relevant and worth reciting. One of his fables — “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” seemed particularly relevant this weekend.

As the first rains of the 2014 monsoon began falling last week, law enforcement and emergency services closed both ends of Oak Creek Canyon three times — on Friday, July 4, Sunday,
July 6, and Monday, July 7.

On the Fourth of July, after a flash flood watch was issued for the Sedona area, an editor for KTVK Channel 3 in Phoenix emailed me a request for “stills of the flooding along Oak Creek.” At the time, I was with friends at an Uptown restaurant along Oak Creek and we were watching lightning and light rain over dinner.

Surprised that my friends who live in the canyon were not calling nor texting me about rising flood waters, I promptly called a few to see if there was anything to cover, or if they had any photos to send me. Rain was falling, the sirens had sounded, but nope, no flooding.

According to the National Weather Service, the Oak Creek water gauge near Tlaquepaque rose Friday from 2.1 feet to a crest of 2.17 feet. On Sunday, it rose to a crest of 2.62 feet. For reference, the NWS “action stage” for flood warning at that location is 7 feet, and “flood stage” is 14 feet. According to the NWS, the canyon’s major floods occurred in winter or early spring due to melting snow rather than monsoon rains — the September 2009 microburst near Tlaquepaque had hit Sedona proper, not the canyon.

As a newspaper, we have shot some amazing photos of raging flood waters precisely because we had access to Oak Creek Canyon, which is generally not closed until the risk is obvious and tangible. Closing Oak Creek Canyon for every flash flood watch and warning seems overly worrisome and unnecessary. Safety is a top concern for emergency crews, but it appears the warnings greatly outweigh the actual risk.

The burn area of the Slide Fire has increased the probability of debris washing into and down Oak Creek, but nearly the entire burn area is on the opposite side of the creek from State Route 89A, meaning the roadway will only be affected by normal monsoon hazards, like mudslides and falling rocks, few if any lead to full closures. Some residential bridges could be temporarily washed out, but these are roads off State Route 89A and not the highway itself.

Hikers and recreationists in the canyon are not at risk — the Coconino National Forest has banned them by closing every access point, campground and trailhead in the canyon.

The closure on Sunday is completely understandable. Mudslides and rockfalls in the canyon are common during monsoon rainstorms, but flash flood warnings rarely elicit canyon closures. If no flooding actually happens, those in the canyon will begin to ignore the sirens — which will become the proverbial boy who cries wolf.

If a major flood happens, canyon residents will have ignored the all-too-regular sirens until it is too late. Aesop’s fables are relevant because of the common sense wisdom they impart. We should assess the real risk and remember to only cry wolf when there’s one we can see.

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  • dan wetzel

    Thank you!! Finally someone is putting into print what those of us in the Canyon have been saying all along. I've lived in the Canyon since 1977 and have heard these exaggerated warnings from local officials time and again when none were warranted. Wolf indeed!
    Had a fraction of the caution and money spent after the fire been applied in May, like folks had asked the Forest Service to do, there would most likely have been no fire in the first place. Warnings of fines and other stiff penalties for lighting fires, with personnel in place to enforce would have been an economical and effective way to keep the real potential dangers from becoming realities. Hand out the fliers before the fires.
    Thanks again.
    Dan and Katherine Wetzel

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