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