Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

June 16, 2011

 Top Story

Jocko Valley awash in water but intense reaction limited damage

By B.L. Azure

It was all hands on deck at the Arlee VFD "classic" fire station.
Locals of all ages and KHJC students as well as CSKT Fire and Forestry
personnel manned filled sandbags used for flood protection. (B.L. Azure
photo)
It was all hands on deck at the Arlee VFD "classic" fire station. Locals of all ages and KHJC students as well as CSKT Fire and Forestry personnel manned filled sandbags used for flood protection. (B.L. Azure photo)

ARLEE — The Arlee VFD’s old fire hall was a buzz of activity last Wednesday as Jocko Valley locals along with Kicking Horse Job Corps students and CSKT Division of Fire and Forestry rough-cuts teamed up to fill, deliver and set much needed sandbags to homes and businesses throughout the low lying areas threatened or already beset with water lapping at their door steps. Forestry heavy equipment operators dug several ditches to channel water away from residences, roads and railroad tracks back into the swollen Jocko Valley creeks.

“Everything went well - very well - in the Jocko because of all the help,” said Dale Nelson, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Emergency Disaster Services coordinator. “We got a lot of help from community members and the Arlee VFD. They provided us with food and drinks, that was great.”

In the Jocko Valley last Wednesday, every tributary - Agency, Finley, Valley, Grey Wolf, Hewolf - to the Jocko River escaped their banks to slurp onto the historical floodplains. In its wake on the traditional floodplains were long uncharged gullies, marshes and creeks that historically sponged up and channeled the water the way Mother Nature planned. Nowadays man’s plan has built roads, agricultural endeavors and residences that Mother is now riding roughshod over and through.

The CSKT’s Emergency Disaster Services office, and Divisions of Law Enforcement, and Fish and Game along with Lake County Sheriff’s Office assisted with eyes and ears in the field. Arlee District Tribal Councilman Jimmy Malatare helped get the ball rolling with the CSKT armada of responders.

Amy Chalcraft's rental home is literally sitting atop a floodwater in the boggy soils located in the Finley Creek floodplain. (B.L. Azure photo)
Amy Chalcraft's rental home is literally sitting atop a floodwater in the boggy soils located in the Finley Creek floodplain. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We’ve got guys all over the place,” said Division of Fire honcho Bob McCrea in a Hello-I-must-be-going pace. He was directing his charges to 10 flooded or threatened homes and businesses in the Jocko Valley and Valley Creek area as well as to the several overflows onto county roads.

“The (CSKT) Fire and Forestry guys did an excellent job down there,” Nelson said. “There was 10 places already flooded or threatened and they attacked and subdued the overflowing water. Those guys knew where they were going and knew what to do when they got there.”

The eight homes and two businesses were saved from the floodwaters, and the several flooded over county roads were also cleared of floodwaters.

“Kicking Horse Job Corps students were also on hand filling sandbags and helping in the field,” Nelson said. “They were a tremendous help.”

Instead of passing the buck Kicking Horse Job Corps students and CSKT Divisions of Fire and Forestry rough-cuts teamed up to pass sandbags to hold off flood water at the Jocko Hollow Campground. (B.L. Azure photo)
Instead of passing the buck Kicking Horse Job Corps students and CSKT Divisions of Fire and Forestry rough-cuts teamed up to pass sandbags to hold off flood water at the Jocko Hollow Campground. (B.L. Azure photo)

Unseen but also a part of the mix was the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Water wranglers there are diverting water into appropriate canals and reservoirs in preparation for the yet to come spring runoff that will be very dicey ride with all the spring moisture.

“We transferred water to the North Division in the Mission area but there is only so much room in St. Mary’s (Reservoir),” said Pete Plant, FIIP assistant manager/hydrologist. “We anticipated a lot of water coming out of the mountains in the Jocko Valley. It was like we expected due to the above-average precipitation for June. We expect to see high runoffs for the rest of the month. If we get rains it will spike the runoff.”

Plant and Nelson said the X factors in the runoff are the snow-pack, precipitation and temperatures. They will all affect the spring runoff - that may not happen until this summer - flow rates. The present snow-pack is 200 percent of average and is equivalent to 50 inches of water.

Another X factor is water-orders from irrigators under FIIP. Due to abundant precipitation and saturated soils there haven’t been many requests for irrigation water.

“People may wonder why some of the canals are not running water,” Plant said. “We can’t fill them because there is nowhere to put it. The fields are already saturated and there are no water orders.”

The empty canals do provide for some runoff flow but they hold relatively little water in comparison to what’s out there. If full any extra water would flow over faster onto already saturated soils into farm homes and outbuildings as well as roadways.

Plant said there will come a point when the FIIP reservoirs become full and the water will then have to be passed through to already swollen water ways flowing through saturated lands.

Division of Fire crew boss Ron Swaney is itching to get to the wildfires in Arizona but in the meantime he was soaking it up in the marshes of Finley Creek. (B.L. Azure photo)
Division of Fire crew boss Ron Swaney is itching to get to the wildfires in Arizona but in the meantime he was soaking it up in the marshes of Finley Creek. (B.L. Azure photo)

“The snow pack is still hanging up there. We dodged a bullet last week. We can keep dodging as long as the weather stays cool,” Plant said. “Right now we are really on the edge of a cliff; if we get rains with warm temperatures they’ll wash down the snow pack and we’ll be washed over the cliff.”

The Mission, Tabor and Ninepipes reservoirs are 80 percent full as of Tuesday; McDonald Reservoir is 85 percent full; and, Kicking Horse is 60 percent full. The storage reservoirs in the Jocko Valley haven’t been storing water as they were designed for. The lower reservoir leaks and can’t store water and the upper reservoir has a 2,400 acre-feet storage restriction.

It looks like this may turn out to be one of those years everyone affected will recall for decades and it is bound to be in the record books.

“It was busy time in the Jocko last week but since then it’s been kind of quite,” Nelson said. “All the streams in the area have receded back a bit and we don’t have water on the roads or in homes.”

Nelson said St. Ignatius community members, the VFD, Mormon Church members and the Amish folks were helping keep Mission Creek at bay with sandbagging.

Mission area residents can pick up sandbags and sand at the Tribal Health and Human Services Fitness Center.

The Jocko River at the Jocko Hollow Campground flowed out of its present channel to its historical one and beyond. (B.L. Azure photo)
The Jocko River at the Jocko Hollow Campground flowed out of its present channel to its historical one and beyond. (B.L. Azure photo)

Sandbags and sand are also available at the old Arlee VFD building; in Ronan area at Division of Fire and Kicking Horse Job Corps.

Lake County Emergency Services is holding fort for the Polson and north area of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

This winter and spring have been record breakers when it comes to snow pack and precipitation. The area went into the winter well-off water wise. The fall, winter and spring precipitation charged the aquifer and sponged up the soils that sit atop a gravel heap that is essentially an underground river. So when topsoil in the Jocko is soaked that is a good indication of how much water out of sight below.

“This is just the first round of this. We’re not out of the problems in the area yet. We’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg,” Nelson said. “There is still a lot of snow pack up there in the Missions (Mountains). What is going to cause more flooding? Warm days with warm rains. Then we’ll see flooding elsewhere along the Missions. Right now cooler weather is keeping it up there. “

The tub is full and more spring rains are in the forecast. And up high there is the winter snow-pack that heretofore has just been shadow boxing, thanks to the cooler than normal temperatures. With normal temperatures and approximately 50 inches of water presently in the form of the snow pack that - depending upon rate of melt and precipitation - will determine if the runoff will be a featherweight pretender or heavyweight contender that will deliver a standing 8-count, TKO or knockout punch. They won’t be hard to deliver now that the area has been softened with body punches from above.

For more information or to report an emergency situation, contact: CSKT Emergency Services manager Dale Nelson at 675-2550 or 675-2700; or Lake County Emergency Management director Steve Stanley at 883-7253.

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