Flood Proclamation

The Clark Fork River flows over a diversion dam near the Van Buren Street footbridge on Thursday. Missoula County has issued an emergency proclamation for the possibility of flooding in the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Swan, Clearwater and Lolo Creek drainages.

An emergency proclamation is in place as Missoula County prepares for the possibility of a 2019 flood season.

Adriane Beck, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, requested Thursday that the county commission sign the proclamation as a formality that will allow her office to begin pulling in all of the agencies that have a role to play when floods occur.

It’s also an opportunity to start documenting the costs involved if a flood were to happen, and possibly get reimbursed from other state or federal agencies, Beck told the commission.

“It’s a pre-emptive thing we do ahead of the flood season or fire season when we have a real likelihood it will occur,” Beck said.

The proclamation notes that the amount of snow accumulating in the lower elevation valleys was above average in Missoula County this winter, and the National Weather Service already has issued several flood advisories for the area.

They’re also predicting that the existing snowpack at higher elevations will continue to grow, and with continued precipitation at lower levels, the risk of flooding in the Lolo Creek, Clearwater River, Swan River, and Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Bitterroot drainages is continuing to increase. In addition, the precipitation is contributing to unstable slopes and land as the result of soil saturation.

“… predicted water levels are expected to exceed flood stages from run-off conditions in various places in and around the County of Missoula …” the proclamation states. “These conditions may require timely action to minimize immediate peril to life or property caused by the imminent threat of disaster …”

As was reported previously in the Missoulian, the flood stage level has been lowered this year from 10 feet to 7.5 feet on the U.S. Geological Survey’s gauge on the Clark Fork River above Missoula. That was done in conjunction with the USGS and the National Weather Service based on significant flooding  that took place last year at the 7.5-foot level.

“Orchard Homes was ground zero for flood impacts with what we saw in 2018,” Beck said. “We reduced the minor flood stage to 7.5 feet to help people be more aware of when they could see impacts, but also for us to respond appropriately.”

The National Weather Service is predicting a 30% to 50% chance of rain and snow showers for the next week, with a slight break on Saturday and a high of 56 degrees. Otherwise, temperatures are expected to hover in the 40s, with overnight lows in the 20s and 30s.

At this point, the Clark Fork River appears to have crested at 6.7 feet, and is dropping. But Beck warned that will change based on models. She said they have an 80% to 90% confidence level that flows will hit at least the 7.5-foot level.

“This model changes, so that’s just a snapshot in time. But we’re pretty confident we’ll get to that 7.5-foot level on the gauge,” Beck said.

They’ve scheduled a community meeting for 6 p.m. April 24 in the Hawthorne School gym to meet with Orchard Homes residents to help them prepare for the possibility of flooding this year.

Beck said they’re also working with officials at Fort Missoula to stage sandbag operations there similar to what they did last year.

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