Preparing for The Flood

(Note to subscribers:  Sorry this is a day late. The Statesman is now posting videos with my columns, the first of which ran Sunday, and I’m working on posting them with the blog. Hope to post the one for this column as soon as we can work it out. — Tim)

The first reward for the feverish activity at my house these days was my Navy watch cap, missing since fall.

It was under a pillow on a closet shelf.
Next was the case for my prescription glasses. It was under a bed in a downstairs bedroom.
Then, the “woo-hoo” moment – the missing recipes: my late father’s spaghetti sauce and buttermilk pancakes, a friend’s killer chili, another friend’s “devil dog egg nog” and other favorite recipes. Paper-clipped together, they’d fallen behind a desk drawer that had to be moved.
The reason for the feverish activity and reappearance of missing oddments is a short walk from our house: the raging Boise River. Like many other southwest Idahoans, we’re getting ready for The Flood.
This is not meant to alarm anyone. Maybe there won’t be major flooding in Boise. Not even the experts know for sure. That said, this spring is the first time I can remember actually hearing the river from my house. Not a background murmur, but a deep, powerful sound audible from a sobering distance away. And even with the high flows, water is coming into the reservoirs faster than it’s going out. Where I live, it would be foolish not to prepare.
Friends who don’t live in the flood plain ask if we really think our house could flood. They ask in polite but skeptical tones, as if the threat were remote and the real issue is our sanity.
We haven’t gone round the bend yet, thank you. Another few thousand cubic feet per second and all but a few rooms of our house could be partially underwater.
Like many who live near the river, we naively had our house built in what is now designated as part of the flood plain. We worried at the time that it might be too close to the river, but the building lot was approved so it had to be safe, right?
It wasn’t long after that that the flood plain maps were redrawn, with our then new house lying just inside the flood-plain boundary. We worry every year that there’s a big snowpack, but never have we had a snowpack like this year’s. If the weather turns hot and stays hot …
So, we’re preparing.
In February, with the snowbanks waist-high, we increased the flood-insurance coverage. In April, after crews sealed the manhole covers in our neighborhood to prevent floodwater from getting into the sewers, we started moving things upstairs. This month, we continued moving things and signed up for the county’s Code Red alerts. Last week, I rented a storage space.
Nothing can fully protect you from the ravages of a flood, of course. I covered enough of them during my Statesman career to appreciate how devastating they are. Still, there are things you can do to soften the blow.
Flood insurance covers only the building, not the contents. Even if you have enough insurance to repair the damage to your house, you’re on your own for replacing damaged furniture, appliances, paintings, televisions, clothing … And some things – photos and other personal treasures – can never be replaced.
The first things to go to the second floor were my guitars. It’s not that they’re worth a lot of money, but they’re worth a lot to me. I’ve played them on recordings, at gigs from Christmas parties to the governor’s ball, at venues from Pengilly’s Saloon to the Stueckle Sky Center. They’re part of who I am.
Then came the “irreplaceables.” High school and college yearbooks. Photos of the kids growing up. A folder of photos that belonged to my father, with pictures dating to when he was a boy. A scrapbook my mother made when she was young. Important documents: tax returns, insurance policies, contracts, tickets, birth certificates, passports, medical records, warranty papers.
Next were things that aren’t especially valuable or crucial, but you’d still hate to lose: CDs, DVDs, stereo components, memorabilia.
The “oh, well” stuff stayed where it was. Food, small appliances, furniture not worth the trouble to move … Things you wouldn’t want to lose, but “oh, well” if you do. Things no longer needed went to the Youth Ranch. Things that couldn’t be donated or recycled went to the trash.
If the flood predictions become more dire, we’ll move the TV and its accessories upstairs. We’ll put some things up on blocks and, if dire turns to inevitable, move as much as possible into storage and decide where to live till it’s over.
Disclaimer: I’m a worrier. I tend to over-prepare for things like this. Don’t start sandbagging or moving your furniture around just because you read this. Get the best information for where you live and decide for yourself what you need to do.
It’s possible that we’ll dodge the bullet. I’ve lived in Boise most of my life and remember very few floods that could be considered remotely serious. My dad and I stood in ankle-deep water piling sandbags around St. Luke’s Hospital during my growing-up years. Decades passed before a flood caused limited damage in North Boise.
If the flood doesn’t happen, the preparations won’t have been wasted. There is, in fact, something liberating about them. Clutter is eliminated; space is created. And there is comfort in knowing that everything recycled or carried to safety is a thing saved.
The generosity of friends and family can’t be overrated. A friend of one of my daughters helped move furniture and brought over a bilge pump. One of my friends offered his truck and his time for a sandbagging party. Others have offered to help if the authorities warn that we’re running out of time.
Here’s hoping the weather cooperates and those of us who live in the flood plain stay high and dry. And if not, here’s hoping we’re as ready as possible.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

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