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Bitterroot Valley snow causes flooding concerns

With a deep layer of snow covering most of the Bitterroot Valley, emergency responders are preparing for potential flooding later this spring.

It almost seems inevitable.

With the amount of moisture packed in the thick layer of snow currently covering the Bitterroot Valley, most folks are resigned to the fact that there’s most likely going to be flooding sometime in the near future.

“It’s definitely on a lot of people’s minds,” said Ravalli County Emergency Management Director Eric Hoover.

Earlier this week, the men and women who would be on the front lines of addressing any spring flooding gathered to start the work needed to ensure that emergency responders, landowners and volunteers will be ready when the snow finally melts.

“We’ve seen the snow compacting and there is some melting happening in the city, but so far there’s not much going on in the rural areas,” Hoover said. “Our hope is that this current weather pattern will continue.”

The forecast calls for temperatures to remain below normal for through the middle of March, but that can’t last forever.

Hoover encourages people who have experienced flooding issues in the past to prepare now by assessing their risk and taking any appropriate actions that could help mitigate the impacts of high water later this year.

Working in conjunction with local volunteer fire departments, the county has already begun distributing sand and sandbags to several fire stations around the valley.

“The county has always had huge support from fire departments in helping people in the community deal with flooding,” Hoover said. “The county has already made some sand dumps that should allow people to get a jump on preparing for any potential flooding.”

Sand and sandbags can be obtained at these locations:

• Corvallis Fire Station No. 2 at mile marker 9 on the Eastside Highway. The sand is on the southeast corner of the station building.

• Three Mile Fire, Station No. 1, 1064 Three Mile Road, northwest corner of the parking lot.

• Victor Fire, new station building at 2383 Meridian Road.

• Stevensville Fire, Westside Station at the Stevensville Wye behind Subway.

“People can’t really place sandbags right now due to all the snow that we have on the ground,” Hoover said. “But if they have experienced flooding in the past, they might want to get some bags filled and have them sitting in their garage and have them ready to place. That would be the best-case scenario for some people.”

Hoover reminded residents that sandbags were only to be used to protect structures or septic systems. They should not be used to divert water onto neighboring properties.

“I also want to encourage people to keep access roads and approaches to irrigation ditches clear of obstructions,” Hoover said. “We have had reports in the past that ditch crews were blocked from gaining access to ditches by a pickup or other machinery sitting in the way on access roads. Those routes need to be kept clear so the crews can get in there and do the work that needs to be done.”

If the area does end up experiencing some flooding this year, Hoover said people need to careful and not get too close to the high water.

“High water can be very deceiving,” he said. “People need to stay away from areas that are inundated. Let the news bring you the pictures of the flooding.”

People also need to remember that conditions can change quickly.

The last flood in the Bitterroot Valley happened in 2017 when warm temperatures were accompanied by some heavy rain on top of low-elevation snow.

“It happened so fast that it caught a lot of people off guard,” he said. “We have got way more snow on the ground this year than we did back then.”

According to the National Resources and Conservation Service Water Supply Outlook Report for March 1, the Bitterroot River Basin picked up a significant amount of snow in February. All of the snow-measuring sites surrounding the valley picked up more than 150 percent of their typical accumulation of snow during the month.

The last storm dropped nearly 3 inches of moisture onto the higher elevations.

Even with that large amount of the snow, the basin-wide snowpack was at 106 percent of normal, which is less than last year’s 133 percent of normal.

“If the weather cooperates, we could get through this without too much flooding,” Hoover said. “That’s our hope.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.