The Hill County government is working closely with state and federal agencies to try to resolve a broken drain at Beaver Creek Dam south of Havre.
“We want to get at it before it turns cold,” Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said Tuesday.
Bessette said the commissioners have been in contact with the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to find the best way to fix, or at least temporarily improve, the problem.
Both of those companies have purview over the operation of the dam, although it is owned and operated by the county. NRCS helped in the design and construction of the dam in 1974, and DNRC oversees the permitting of the dam for its use.
Another project the county is doing in conjunction with those agencies also could determine how it will be paid. Bessette said a project under way to work on the berm on the north side of the dam has been reduced in scope, which could allow the county to use money that had been budgeted for the berm to be used on the drain repairs.
Marvin Cross of the DNRC Dam Safety Division said the money, provided through a renewable resource grant, has been approved to be used for the work on the drain system if any is left over. He said now it is a matter of waiting for the proposals on the berm work to come back to see what money will be available.
The problem at the dam is the county has no way to regulate the level of the reservoir.
A system used to drain the level of Beaver Creek Reservoir, eight miles south of town, stopped working during testing this summer, in the middle of high runoff following June’s flooding on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and in Hill and Chouteau counties.
A gate located at the bottom of the reservoir, about 400 feet upstream from the dam, jammed almost shut during the testing. The gate leads into a 770-foot long tube that releases water from the reservoir, primarily used for controlling the reservoir’s level and to provide water for irrigators.
The system is not designed for flood control.
A problem at the lower level of the tube is complicating the situation. Two gates used to release the water — the first gate, known as a guardian gate, is used to shut water flow to allow work to be done at the lower gates — are leaking. That is creating a flow of water under the guardian gate that will make it dangerous for divers to go to the bottom of the 37-foot tall, 4.5 foot wide concrete riser above the gate.
Because the guardian gate is not functioning, the flow of water cannot be stopped to allow work to be done on the lower gates.
Cross said he has been contacting several companies that could provide divers to find out what the problem is and possibly repair damage.
If the problem cannot be completely repaired, he said, the officials hope at least to get the gate opened again so water can be released to drain the reservoir.
“We are very hopeful, at the very least, that we can get that gate open before it ices over on us,” he said.
He said he has requested proposals from several companies, including a Billings company which has done work at Beaver Creek Dam previously and companies from Texas and Spokane, Wash.
Some of the differences are whether the companies have decompression chambers, which would allow work to be done at the gate, or whether the work would only allow a camera to be sent down to the gate to try to find out what the damage is.
That also is creating a wide range of prices, Cross added. He said Tuesday he still is waiting on a couple of proposals from firms.
“I can’t really tell you anything on costs yet,” he said.
Cross said the primary concern is getting the county a way to regulate the level of the water. If the guardian gate can be opened fully, the dam operator then can release water.
“We could actually live with that for a while,” Cross said, adding that the gate still would have to be repaired to allow repairs of the lower gates.
If the water level cannot be dropped, it could lead to major problems next spring during runoff and spring precipitation, he said.
During the flooding this year, the water was within a foot of rising above the spillway and going over the emergency spillway, Cross said. If the level of the reservoir is not reduced, it could easily lead to water running over the emergency spillway if high rates of runoff and rains come into the reservoir.
While that is not a concern for the dam itself, it would mean much higher flooding on Beaver Creek north of the dam, Cross said. Some residences are close enough to the creek that they could be damaged if that occurs, he said.
“It could cause problems down below,” he said.
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