Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Flooding increases in the region

Blaine County joins Hill County in disaster declarations; seeking state, federal declarations


April 18, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

A water on road sign warns drivers about water running over South Main Street in Harlem Tuesday. The water was overflowing from Thirtymile Creek which runs north of Harlem and connects to the Milk River a couple miles south.

Havre and Hill County officials were meeting with National Weather Service representatives in Havre this morning to talk about the flooding in the region, as Blaine County also issued a disaster declaration.

Hill County said it is pursuing a state and federal disaster declaration due to the flooding.

In a message sent at 3:28 this morning, Hill County Commission Chair Mark Peterson said he flew over western Hill County to inspect damage and flooding, and saw water everywhere and saw many roads flooded or damaged, some damaged beyond use without major repairs.

"You might say Hill County is the land of 1,000 lakes," Peterson said.

Weather Service has flood warnings in effect, specifying flooding at Big Sandy Creek, Lodge Creek and the Milk River near Havre and Battle Creek near Chinook and Milk River near Harlem.

Peterson said he was notified at 11 p.m. Tuesday that a road had 4 feet of water with a stranded vehicle on the road that needed a tractor to be pulled out.

"Remember, don't drive through moving water," Peterson said.

He said some people are likely stranded at their homes due to flooding and the county will work to fix that as quickly as possible.

"There will be some that it will take several days before they will be able to leave their homes," Peterson said. "If there are real emergencies, every attempt will be made to help them. We hope that this will not be abused as it puts others' lives in danger."

He said county officials will be working to assess road damage and close roads as necessary.

"Please honor these signs and turn around," Peterson said, adding that driving on flooded or flood-damaged roads is not only dangerous but increases the damage to the roads.

"It takes a lot of time and money to get them back into shape," he said. "Please hold off as long as possible before driving heavy trucks on the roads."

Peterson added that he hopes people will be patient, as it could take a lot of time to get all of the damage repaired.

A Weather Service water level page showed that Big Sandy Creek had peaked this morning at 14.11 feet, with the level for major flooding listed at 12 feet. The flood level for the creek is 7 feet. The forecast is for the water level to gradually drop but to remain above the moderate flood level through next week.

The Milk River at Havre had peaked at 12.24 feet, with the level for minor flooding at 10 feet and moderate flooding at 15 feet. The forecast is for the water to rise back to about 12.5 feet Thursday and Friday and then start to drop.

Peterson said the only thing preventing flooding in Havre is the Milk River Levee built in the 1950s, which is operating as it should.

"If it wasn't for the Hill County Levee system on the Milk River that would put flood waters on the main street Havre," he said.

In Blaine County, Clear Creek, which peaked in the moderate flood stage at 6.4 feet last Wednesday then dropped below flood stage, is expected to rise to the "action" stage at 4.7 feet over the weekend - still below minor flood stage at 5.5 feet - then drop again.

Battle Creek, which flows from Hill County to just west of Chinook en route to the Milk River, peaked at 12.86 feet, just below the major flood stage of 14 feet, this weekend, then dropped off but came back up to more than 12 feet today. It is expected to drop below flood stage by Friday, but come back to minor flooding at close to 11 feet early next week.

Milk River was just below major flooding at Harlem this morning, with the level at 23.2 feet and major flooding at 25 feet. No prediction was shown on the future level of the river there.

Fresno Reservoir completely filled by Tuesday, with the conservation pool 100 percent full.

The reservoir outflow was listed at 2,047.6 cubic-feet-per-second this morning, up from 1,248 cfs Tuesday morning.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologic engineer Clayton Jordan said Tuesday he has no concerns about the dam and reservoir, but the water flowing out of the dam will increase the flow of the Milk and increase damage downstream.

He said no water is being released from Sherburne Dam on the edge of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation into the Milk River Diversion to transfer water into the Milk at this point.

The bureau reports that as of this morning, Lake Sherbune, which was built to store water to divert into the Milk, was 57.4 percent full.

Jordan said the inflow from snowmelt was still rising Tuesday, but hopes it will drop off soon.

"I expect the peak; I'm putting it on this week," he said.

Hill County declared a disaster Tuesday due to the flooding, and Peterson said this morning he has been in contact with the state Disaster and Emergency Services about seeking a state and federal declaration.

If the county is declared a federal disaster area, it would be the fourth federal flood disaster in the last eight years, with flooding in 2010, 2011 and 2013 leading to federal disaster declarations in Blaine and Hill counties and the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservations.

Peterson said the Hill County Commission wants people to bring in photos of the flooding, on CDs or flash drives with notes on where they were taken.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Ben Miller carries a sand bag around the house he owns as water runs over South Main Street in Harlem Tuesday. The sand bags, all 235 of them, go around the house he rents to Jeff Werk who was also helping lay the bags. The water was overflowing from Thirtymile Creek which runs north of Harlem and connects to the Milk River a couple miles south.

"They will be very helpful as we plead our case to the governor and the president for their disaster declaration for Hill County," he said.

Gov. Steve Bullock's press secretary Marissa Perry said Tuesday that the state had not yet received the Hill County declaration, but officials are in close contact with the county and expect to see something soon.

"County officials may request state assistance once the capacity to respond locally is exhausted," she said."If a county is overwhelmed, the local emergency manager will notify the state emergency management agency who will help local governments navigate the disaster request process.

Perry added that  Bullock established a Multi-Agency Coordinating Group in early April to keep informed of the flooding situation statewide. The MACG is committed to helping local officials prepare for flooding and navigate emergency situations, she said.

Peterson also asked people to be patient as the county tries to deal with the flooded and damaged roads.


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