LOLO PASS, Idaho – Sometime in the last week, perhaps as recently as Saturday, floodwaters washed away the main soaking pool at the popular Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho.
Located a short hike from Highway 12 just over the border from Montana, the hot springs are visited by hundreds of people each week.
On Sunday, several dozen visitors seem surprised to find the pool had been obliterated. There are several pools in the area, but the main pool bore the brunt of the flooding.
Usually big enough to easily hold at least 12 people, it had been wiped away. Someone had apparently clawed away enough mud and sand to make a shallow depression big enough for two people in lukewarm water.
An upper pool was still usable on Sunday, but the floodwaters appeared to have altered the springs to make the water much cooler than normal. A group of soakers huddled toward one side of the pool to keep warm. A large stream had carved out a new channel in the mud in the area.
Warm Springs Creek flows near the main pool, and runs into the Lochsa River a little over a mile away.
According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services, the Lolo Pass area received 3.5 inches of rainfall between March 13 and March 20. By comparison, the Missoula Valley averages about 14 inches of rainfall in a typical year.
According to the U.S. Geological Service, the Lochsa River experienced a rapid influx of water from March 13 until March 16. Data shows that the Lochsa was running at about 4,500 cubic feet per second on March 13 then hit nearly 20,000 cubic feet per second on March 17. It was still running at about 12,000 cfs on Sunday.
The hot springs are managed as a recreation site by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho. Margaret Riley at the Powell Ranger Station said that her office hadn’t received any reports of the damage as of Monday afternoon, indicating that the event occurred fairly recently.
Riley said she didn’t know the process for repairing the pool and needed to speak with more of her colleagues. In the past, the pools have been dug out and modified slightly on an ad-hoc basis by volunteers.