Making progress on Milk River flood reclamation
Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson
A worker dredges the Milk River to excavate debris and sediment from the river near a dam at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Wednesday afternoon. The project is being done through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Work continues apace to repair and reclaim flood damage in north-central Montana, including efforts by the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Leon LaSalle of Havre said his service is working on numerous projects in Hill and Blaine counties through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. The biggest is dredging the Milk River at a diversion dam near the agency on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Backup at that dam caused fields to flood during the high runoff this spring, although the problem predates this year's flooding.
"That debris has been building up on that diversion dam for several years, " he said. "We don't really know how long. "
Other NRCS projects in the area include three on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation near Hays and four on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The work is part of an ongoing recovery from flood damage. President Barack Obama acted June 17 on a request from Gov. Brian Schweitzer, declaring a federal disaster for flooding. That declaration covers damages from April 4 through July 22. The areas covered by the declaration included Hill and Blaine counties and the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations.
Obama again acted on a request from Schweitzer, amending the declaration to include individual assistance to private property and business owners in 16 counties and three reservations, including Hill County and Fort Belknap.
Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration officials have been in the region, helping assess damages and prepare work orders on public infrastructure repair, and helping private property and business owners apply for aid.
People looking for individual assistance must register with FEMA, at (800) 621-FEMA — (800) 621-3362 — or TTY (800) 462-7585 for people with speech or hearing impediments, or online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
Other assistance has been authorized, including programs to aid agricultural producers who have suffered flood damage.
NRCS is continuing to accept applications for its Emergency Watershed Protection Program, with a Sept. 30 deadline for applications.
The program is designed to help landowners, operators and individuals implement emergency measures to stabilize damaged sites, protect infrastructure, and prevent future damages by flood water, an NRCS release said. Eligible practices include the removal of sediment and debris in channels to restore hydraulic capacity; repair of irrigation canals and drainage ditches to restore function; stabilization of slopes and embankments to prevent massive soil erosion and excessive runoff; removal of structures and obstructions that impede or impair the floodplain; disposal of animal carcasses from watercourses; and protection of public and private roads, culverts, and bridges to preserve emergency routes and prevent closures.
The federal government shares the cost with a project sponsor, usually at 75 percent federal funding, through a project sponsor agreement. Project sponsors are ultimately responsible for the 25 percent local match and some other expenses, sometimes provided through in-kind services such as cost of local labor or use. Project sponsors often ask the direct beneficiaries or individuals to cover these responsibilities through formal side agreements.
EWP assistance must be requested through an eligible project sponsor, including a state agency or a legal subdivision, which may be cities, counties, soil conservation districts, and irrigation districts. A Native American tribe or a tribal organization also can be a project sponsor.
Steve Becker, NRCS state conservation engineer, said in the release, "The EWP program presents an opportunity to work with technical specialists to stabilize damaged sites, protect infrastructure, and prevent future damages by flood water. However, the program is not a reimbursement program to fund repairs and restore equity in personal property and was not designed to build levees or repair private levees, which are prevalent in many parts of the state. "
The NRCS has worked closely with FEMA on disaster recovery to ensure their programs complement each other. FEMA has been authorized to provide public assistance through reimbursement to restore capacity and function to public works and public infrastructure. Becker said NRCS can work on private property to stabilize and protect infrastructure owned by individuals.
LaSalle said one EWP project being looked at is repairing damage to the creek in Beaver Creek Park. The stream at Lions Campground has cut a new channel — it no longer flows under the bridge — and NRCS is proposing moving the bridge and recreating 650 feet of channel in that area. It then would be up to the county and FEMA to get the bridge back in place, he said.
Other local projects include work to protect some houses in Hays, which suffered severe flooding in mid-May, and to rechannel the river in Mission Canyon and to restore a culvert.
One of the service's top priorities was clearing the diversion dam at Fort Belknap, LaSalle said, both for taking care of damage from this year's flooding and to prevent the debris and sediment from causing future problems.
"When you get that much pressure on the dam … eventually the river would have cut around that obstacle and cut a new channel, " he said.