Record Flows – Streams Surge – Frenchtown Berms Under Scrutiny
The daily briefing from the Office of Emergency Management on Thursday focused on historic flooding, streams overwhelming culverts and the threat of flooding near the old Smurfit Stone container ponds.
First to speak was National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless, who provided an update on the Clark Fork River.
“As most of you know, the Clark Fork River is now flowing at near record levels,” said Nickless. “We haven’t seen the Clark Fork River above the 13 foot level since 1981, so this is the highest flow in the last 40 years. We’ve already surpassed the 2011 flood here in Missoula. Just a few minutes ago I noticed the river gauge on the Clark Fork sitting on 13 feet.”
Nickless said cooler temperatures may slow the flow of snow melt into the rivers, but they will continue once the weather warms.
“The unfortunate news is even though the river is going to crest this weekend, it’s going to start coming up again next week,” he said. “What levels it will get to then is unknown at this point, because there’s still a lot of snow up in the mountains and a lot more water to come.”
Office of Emergency Management Director Adriane Beck addressed the problem of high waters on area streams, especially after a strong thunderstorm.
“While the Clark Fork has been our primary focus, when we have these rainstorms come in, small streams react a lot more quickly and a lot more violently, so we’re asking people to maintain situational awareness, and if you see hazards associated with those, or the Clark Fork, to report that.”
Travis Ross with the Missoula City County Health Department said the Army Corps of Engineers is inspecting the protective berms that blocks the Clark Fork River from the old containment and settling ponds associated with the former Smurfit Stone container mill.
He was asked about a worst-case scenario, and the flood waters overwhelming that berm. There are potentially 50 to 60 years of accumulated toxic materials behind those berms.
“The site is being overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA, so presumably, they will have some contingencies in place for the potentially responsible parties, the former owners of the sites to stabilize or mitigate whatever needs to be done should such a breach occur.”
Those former owners include WestRock, M2Green and International Paper.
For up-to-date flood information call 258-INFO.