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Lake County faring OK so far following statewide flooding emergency

Lake County isn’t doing too badly considering our neighbors to the south are experiencing devastating flooding from the Clark Fork River, but conditions could change for the county. 

Steve Stanley, Office of Emergency Management director, said a couple of low lying houses in Arlee were sandbagged two weeks ago as a precautionary measure, and groundwater is high in some places, but overall, the county is doing well. He said conditions could change if warm temperatures quickly melt mountain snow. 

“We have the potential for severe flooding. The reservoirs fill and catch water, and if the fill flows increase, we could have flooding,” he said.

Stanley said several places are being watched closely including areas along the base of the Mission Mountains. Post Creek is one of those areas. The Jocko River is also being watched.  

Lake County Commissioners issued an emergency declaration on May 14 in preparation for severe flooding from heavy runoff due to above normal snowpacks.  

“If we didn’t have all the reservoirs, we would be flooding right now like Missoula,” Commissioner Dave Stipe said. “Our irrigation system is catching all the water. Missoula doesn’t have that.”   

Stipe also said warmer weather in the next couple weeks could cause flooding. “I think it’s going to get worse,” he said. “Once the reservoirs fill, and if we get a rain event, then we will flood.” 

In Arlee, a group of volunteers, including kids from the St. Ignatius Glacier Lake School, got together and helped put up 175 sandbags next to a barn and chicken coop that might experience flooding if Finley Creek gets any higher, which is located about a quarter of a mile south from the Arlee Volunteer Fire Department, near Couture Loop.

“It’s high right now, so we are just keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t flood,” volunteer Craig McClure said. 

Property Owners Debra and Rick Orozco said as of Friday, May 11, they hadn’t seen any water around the sandbags. The area did flood in 2011 when the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came out and built a levy near the area.

The Orozcos saw the water level getting higher in the creek a few weeks ago and got worried, so they started filling sandbags to protect their place. “The water was creeping closer to the storage shed,” Debra said. The couple figured it was going to take them about four days to fill the sandbags and put them in place, until help arrived.

“We are so grateful for all the help,” she said.

Eugene Beckes, one of the volunteers, said he heard about the potential flooding problem and wanted to help. He stopped at the Glacier Lake School and asked if the students wanted to help with the project.

“They volunteered right away,” he said. “They are such a great group of kids. I’m really proud of how hard they worked.”

Governor Steve Bullock declared a statewide flooding emergency last week with unprecedented flooding across Montana from the Hi-Line to Missoula. His executive order provides state resources such as sandbags, pumps, and emergency coordinators to assist local and tribal jurisdictions with on-the-ground efforts.  

“I’ve seen the devastation of flooding firsthand,” he notes. “My thoughts are with our neighbors whose homes, businesses, and schools are being affected by the flooding. The brave volunteers and emergency services teams working around the clock are doing an incredible job evacuating Montanans and protecting homes and businesses from further damage.”

He added that parts of Montana still have up to 200 percent of normal snowpack for this time of year. “Combined with recent rainfalls, the conditions are ripe for severe flooding to continue in Montana.” 

Bullock reflected on the past year in Montana and called it a “challenging” time with an incredibly difficult fire season to severe winter storms. “Conditions this week and throughout the month will continue to be challenging,” he states. “Everyone – residents, first responders, volunteers – must continue to stay safe, stay informed, and continue to support our emergency services teams, our communities, and families impacted by flooding.”

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