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Recent snowfalls create potential for flooding on Rez, in Montana

By Adriana Fehrs

Some large standing pools of ground water have formed from the recent snowmelt and high amounts of precipitation. Governor Bullock declared a flood emergency for the state of Montana on Monday, March 10. The Office of Emergency Management is ready to take action if flooding occurs. They have 400,000 sandbags ready to be deployed. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  Some large standing pools of ground water have formed from the recent snowmelt and high amounts of precipitation. Governor Bullock declared a flood emergency for the state of Montana on Monday, March 10. The Office of Emergency Management is ready to take action if flooding occurs. They have 400,000 sandbags ready to be deployed. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION — The snow pack for the lower level elevations on the reservation are at 140 percent above average. Seth Makepeace, Hydrologist for the CSKT Water Administration in Ronan, says it’s a “wait-and-see-type of situation,” when it comes to flooding risk.

Governor Steve Bullock declared a flood emergency for the state of Montana on March 10. The declaration allows Bullock to mobilize state resources and the Montana National Guard, as well as expend funds to meet the contingencies and needs that may arise from the emergency. Currently, 30 of Montana’s counties are under a flood watch, warning or advisory.

In the past month, the Flathead Indian Reservation has experienced between 130 to 140 percent above average precipitation, but only at the lower elevations. Up higher, where the snow pack feeds the creeks and lakes, have only received 110 to 115 percent average snow pack. Makepeace says, “It too early to tell how bad the flooding will be. Most likely what we will see is some localized ground flooding.”

Currently, stream flow runoff is only at 85 percent average. This means that most of the precipitation at higher elevations is still snow, and most snowpack has not begun to melt. The Northwest River Forecast Center (NRFC) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) three-month outlook for Lake County predicts an equal chance of above or below water runoff.

The risk for potential flood is already evident in the Pablo area. Pools of standing water can be seen forming in fields. (Adriana Fehrs photo) The risk for potential flood is already evident in the Pablo area. Pools of standing water can be seen forming in fields. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Makepeace says, what could pose as a problem, and is likely to occur, is standing pools of water in the area. “When this happens, it means the water tables have rose, and what people will face is basement flooding, and flooding in their fields and pastures. There is not much a person can do when dealing with shallow aquifers; it’s a matter of waiting for the water table to sink back to its original level.” Mud Creek in Pablo is an area of concern that could see flooding. Stephen Stanley, Coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Polson, says, “Low land flooding generally doesn’t include any houses.”

Stanley says OEM has already seen pooling on McDonald Lake Road and Old Freight Road in St. Ignatius, North Couture Loop in Arlee, and by mile marker 62 on Hwy 93 in Polson.

OEM is prepared in the event of a flood. They have 400,000 sandbags, a more than adequate amount, ready for dispersal on roadways in Lake County to prevent flooding. OEM does not provide sandbags to individuals for use on their property, but CSKT can aid tribal members on their properties in case of a flooding. Stanley says, “The Tribe has access to resources in the event of a flood, a lot of the time they have access to those resources faster than us.” OEM and CSKT have the same pre-disaster mitigation emergency plan, which enables the entities to work together often times in an emergency situation. “A disaster doesn’t care if a person is tribal or non-tribal, it effects everybody in the area” explains Stanley.

Ground flooding in fields outside of Ronan can be seen from the highway. Seth Makepeace, a Hydrologist for the CSKT Water Administration, says “the amount of snow for lower elevations on the reservation is at 140 percent, and in some places 180 percent, of average snowpack. This is why we might see some ground flooding.” (Adriana Fehrs photo) Ground flooding in fields outside of Ronan can be seen from the highway. Seth Makepeace, a Hydrologist for the CSKT Water Administration, says “the amount of snow for lower elevations on the reservation is at 140 percent, and in some places 180 percent, of average snowpack. This is why we might see some ground flooding.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen encouraged Montanans not to wait to buy flood insurance. Flood insurance policies do not take effect until 30 days after purchase, making early planning essential to cover costly flood damage. “Flooding is a real risk this spring,” said Lindeen. “If you wait until the creeks are jumping their banks to buy insurance, it’s too late. Most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. If you are worried about flooding, now is the time to buy.”

A 72-hour kit is important to have for a quick evacuation in case of flooding. Stanley says, “It’s worth doing period. Be aware of areas that have flooded before, most likely if there are flood warnings those will be the areas effected. It’s important to evacuate quickly as possible. Everyone should be self sufficient, because sometimes roadways get blocked, and it can be more than 72 hours before emergency help arrive.” He explains that stores will only carry a two-day supply of foods and supplies. “The stores sell out quickly. They rely on trucks coming to deliver goods almost on a daily basis.”

The Montana Departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) have compiled a list of tips for dealing with flood conditions. These tips are available online at www.deq.mt.gov. “Flood water can contaminate private wells, springs and cisterns and it’s up to the owner to make sure the water is safe. Don’t use water from a flooded well” explains Lisa Peterson, DEQ Public Affairs Coordinator.

A graph depicting the snow water equivalent for the North Fork Jocko shows that the snowpack for higher elevations are only slightly above average for this time of year. River stream flows are at 85 percent of average. “The risk of rivers and creeks flooding is not great. What is more of a concern is localized ground flooding,” explains Seth Makepeace, Hydrologist for the CSKT Water Administration. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) A graph depicting the snow water equivalent for the North Fork Jocko shows that the snowpack for higher elevations are only slightly above average for this time of year. River stream flows are at 85 percent of average. “The risk of rivers and creeks flooding is not great. What is more of a concern is localized ground flooding,” explains Seth Makepeace, Hydrologist for the CSKT Water Administration. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

The DEQ and DPHH offer these flood safety tips:
   • Move any chemicals or hazardous materials above flood level to lessen the chance of spill and contamination. Secure any above ground storage tanks.
   • Use bottled water or disinfect water by boiling for five minutes or adding five drops of bleach to every quart and let sit for at least five minutes.
   • Discard food that has been exposed to floodwaters. Discard refrigerated and frozen food if the power has been out for more than six hours or the food has been warmed to above 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than three hours.
   • Don’t enter a building that has been flooded until there are no doubts about its safety.
   • Wash flooded clothing and bedding using a disinfectant such as bleach. Discard mattresses and stuffed toys that have been soaked. Steam-clean all carpeting that has been soaked.
   • Wear protective clothing such as rubber boots and gloves while cleaning up debris and scrubbing flood-damaged interiors and furniture.
   • Monitor the radio and other media for current information, including travel restrictions.

To contact the OEM for Lake County call (406) 883-7253. For more information about flood safety and cleanup visit the DEQ website at www.deq.mt.gov. You can also contact your county health department, the Food and Consumer Safety Section of DPHHS at (406) 444-5309, or the DEQ Public Water Supply Bureau at (406) 444-4400.

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