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Montana Flood News Roundup For May 21, 2018

A levee on the Clark Fork River near Turah, MT eroded by floodwater, May 20, 2018.
A levee on the Clark Fork River near Turah, MT eroded by floodwater, May 20, 2018.

Missoula’s historic flood season is still going strong, but the worst of it may be over.

First, the good news as delivered Monday by Missoula National Weather Service Meteorologist Jeff Kitzmiller.

“Right now we are just around 11-and-a-half-feet on the Clark Fork River above Missoula and, then the Bitterroot River near Missoula is about the same,” Kitzmiller says.

Eleven-and-a-half-feet puts those rivers at moderate flood stage. That’s a far cry from the Clark Fork’s 13.8 foot major flood stage reached just a little over a week ago.

Warm temperatures this week will melt off more mountain snowpack and will bump the Clark Fork back up to about 12 feet by Saturday. That’s a lot of water, but still a foot below major flood stage.

In fact, the Weather Service says it’s highly unlikely the Clark Fork River is going to reach major flood stage again this season.

About 65 residents of Missoula’s low-lying Orchard Homes neighborhood have been flooded out of their houses since May 8.

Captain Anthony Rio with the Missoula County Sheriff’s office announced a softening of that mandatory evacuation order Monday. That means evacuees can check in on their houses but still can’t move back in.

“So they can go in and out, do the things that they need to do without actually having to check in. Once the water levels come back up and there’s something that poses more of a serious threat, then we will put our roadblocks back in place.”

Rio says It may be weeks before those evacuees are able to permanently return home.

"Our normal flood season could be starting here at the end of this month. We were just about two to three weeks ahead of schedule. That’s the worst-case scenario – that we would have to go to mid-June – but that’s really what we’re looking at right now.”

A mobile vaccination clinic on Wednesday from 1 to 4 will provide free tetanus shots to residents affected by the flooding as well as  volunteers who’ve helped with flood-relief efforts. That mobile clinic, will be located at the Wheat Montana parking lot on the corner of Third and Reserve streets.

Meanwhile, east of Missoula, in the Turah-area, the Army Corps of Engineers continues to repair a local levee that floodwaters had eroded. Excavators are reinforcing the levee with large and small rocks.

The Corps’ Jess Jordan says that work started Sunday morning.

“We’re not seeing any larger loss of the levee itself," Jordan says. "We’re hardening that toe and we’ll continue to assess how we want to move forward in building it. (It could take) maybe five days, potentially up to nine.”

This week’s work is considered a temporary fix, with a permanent repair planned for this summer.

Jordan says local power lines, fiber optic cables as well as petroleum and natural gas lines do not appear threatened by the flood waters at this time.

Jordan adds work to shore up a river bank in Plains to protect a local sewage lagoon successfully wrapped up last week.

Starting Friday, the Big Hole River is forecast to reach moderate flood stage before dropping back down to minor flood stage by next Tuesday, May 29. Butte Silver-Bow County urges anyone who plans to camp in the Big Hole area during Memorial Day weekend to be extremely careful around high waters.

Governor Steve Bullock Monday extended two prior emergency declarations by issuing an executive order for a statewide flood disaster. That allows ongoing response efforts to continue. Bullock declared a statewide flooding emergency May 1. By Montana statute, emergency declarations expire after twenty days.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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