Heavy rains soak fields, floods streets
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More than 2 inches of rain fell on Havre over the weekend, a good thing for area farmers and ranchers, a bad thing for those driving on city streets, some of which were flooded.
Rain, according to the National Weather Service, could continue in the Havre area through Tuesday and tail off by Wednesday.
Parts of First Street, at the intersection of Thirteenth Avenue and at the intersection of Second Avenue West, were closed Saturday night by city police because of flooding, according to Chief Kevin Olson.
The rain, however, did do some good, bringing Havre close to its normal precipitation amount for the calendar year, and helping with this year's crops. But it will take more precipitation to reverse the effects of four years of drought.
Elsewhere in Montana, flood warnings were issued for Toole County and parts of Cascade, Glacier, Pondera and Teton counties. A small stream flood advisory was in effect for Chouteau County, and heavy snow warnings were issued for parts of Glacier and Teton counties.
Gregg Carlson, agronomist at the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center at Fort Assinniboine, said the rain will translate into money and the amount in Hill County alone will be huge.
"This rain is worth four million bucks," he said. "An inch of moisture is worth about five bushels of wheat."
But in the long term, it's a drop in the bucket.
Cattle-grazing rangeland is extremely dry for 6 to 8 feet below the surface, Carlson said.
"That will take a tremendous amount of moisture," he said, adding that heavy winter snows are usually what recharge the soil moisture content.
Deana Grabofsky of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Havre said the effects of the storm have yet to be measured.
"It's the soakers that help the soil profile, the runoff that helps the reservoirs," she said.
North-central Montana is such a vast area, different regions had different storms, Grabofsky said. Areas that didn't have fast, heavy rains will see most of the moisture soaking into the soil. Other areas that had runoff will see increases in their reservoir levels.
NRCS will measure the effect in each area to determine how much the rain helped the soil moisture, Grabofsky said.
The variation was apparent in the Havre area, Carlson said. The ag station missed the drenching rains Saturday that flooded Havre's streets, but had received up to 2.4 inches by this morning, he said.
The only problem the rain may have caused for farmers is field erosion from runoff, Carlson said. He added that he hasn't heard of many places where that has occurred.
The rains will have an effect on the remaining winter wheat crops.
"It will be very helpful to what's left. I'd guess 75 to 85 percent of winter wheat is torn up," Carlson said.
Most spring wheat planting is done, and the rain will be a huge benefit to that, he said.
"We were in a situation where we weren't sure whether the spring crop would even germinate and come up it was that bad," he said.
Some spring wheat may need to be reseeded, Carlson said.
The rain will help the crops, but more is needed, he said.
"When plants don't have the soil moisture, they have to have rain to make up for it," he said.
The rain and snowstorms in April and May are making the current rainfall particularly beneficial, Carlson said. The earlier moisture set the stage for this rain to soak into the ground.
Grabofsky said the soil moisture content is so low, it will probably take several years of average or above-average moisture to fully recover from the drought. The weekend rain will not be enough.
"It's a benefit, but it's not the complete answer," she said.
As for city streets, Havre public works director Dave Peterson attributed the flooding to the city's antiquated drainage system.
"It's been probably since the 1940s since it's been upgraded, down in the east end, probably longer," Peterson said. "Right now what happens during normal rains, the drain system is sufficient. It's when you get quick thunderstorms or what we had this weekend when there's a problem."
The Montana Department of Transportation has plans to renovate and rebuild part of First Street in 2006. Upgrading drainage, Peterson said, is part of that project.
The worst spots Saturday were the main collection areas along First Street, by the Duck Inn and McDonald's.
"Mainly you have all the water coming off hills like Sixth Street, Seventh Street, Eighth Street and Ninth Street," Peterson said. "All that water's just coming down. And that's where it all comes Fourteenth Avenue."
Rain, Peterson said, ultimately flows into the Milk River. But, according to Hill County sanitarian and planner Clay Vincent, the water had trouble even making its way through the city drainage system.
Recently cut grass became lodged in the lines near Sunnyside Intermediate School, blocking water from flowing and forcing it onto city streets, Vincent said.
"It just got basically plastered in there and ran out onto the streets," he said.
Vincent said he and a group of city public works employees went to the storm drain several times Saturday night to remove the blockage.
Vincent noted that First Street is maintained by the state, not the city.
"The drain by the Duck Inn is under a state highway. We have looked at adding a $5 assessment on taxes to get the money to fix the drains," Vincent said.
People living in areas of Havre with adequate drainage don't favor the additional tax, he said.
Subdivisions built since the mid-1970s and those built today, Vincent said, are required to have drainage basins on the premises.
"That's when we started looking at all these issues," he said.
Down at McDonald's and across the street at Pizza Hut, Vincent said, exists a large part of the problem. That's where water from the west side of town flows into several drain pipes.
"We need more drains in the street by Pizza Hut to get water to the culverts under the railroad tracks. We need some money to get a bigger pipe down there," Vincent said. "We go through this every year. But nobody wants extra taxes. So what do we do?"