Snow melts: Minimal flooding in immediate area

A sudden shift to warmer temperatures has caused minimal flooding in the immediate area, compared to the massive threat of flooding at the south end of the county.

A few residents on Clarks Fork Street in Byron were literally bailed out by their neighbors on Friday evening (March 7) when the canal near their homes overflowed following an ice jam. According to the town’s mayor Pam Hopkinson water inched its way into the basements of two homes below ground level and one shed was flooded at ground level, as a result.

Hopkinson explained that the “unexpected” event occurred in spite of the fact that town crews had worked much of the afternoon to clear ice blocking the canal. It appeared that several large chunks of ice broke loose after the crews finished their work for the day, quickly blocking the flow of water and causing the canal to overflow in the direction of nearby homes.

Friends, families and neighbors quickly organized their efforts to clear the canal and to protect the threatened homes with sandbags. The Lovell Volunteer Fire Dept. assisted, along with a group of young people from Lovell.

“It’s always good in a situation like this to see the town’s people pull it together like that,” said Hopkinson. “It’s a small town thing and it speaks a lot about the people who live here. It was really positive how people came out to help, even people from neighboring Lovell. We appreciate that so much. We are especially grateful to the fire crew for their swift response and for the use of their pumps.”

Hopkinson said the canal was flowing smoothly again when she returned from a trip to Billings at around 10 p.m. on Friday night. She said it began to back up with ice again on Saturday morning but town crews promptly cleared it and had it flowing again.

Lovell Police Chief Nick Lewis said he hadn’t heard        reports of any other significant flooding in the immediate area, though some flooding was reported south of Lovell near Spence Oilfield Road.

 Caution urged on BLM roads

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wind River/Big Horn Basin District issued a travel advisory on Tuesday to those using BLM roads to travel across public land. The advisory cautioned that travelers could encounter road damage and washouts that are occurring due to snowmelt and runoff.

“Please proceed cautiously and turn around if in doubt about a road’s stability or safety,” said BLM Civil Engineer Jim Critz. “Travel safely and let us know when you discover deteriorating road conditions.”

The advisory warned that driving on wet roads and two-tracks can cause resource damage including soil erosion and degradation, damage to sagebrush or archaeological sites and ruts and reminded the public that motorized vehicle use on public land is limited to existing roads and two-tracks. Driving off roads and trails is only allowed for “necessary tasks” and when no resource damage will occur.

The locations of road damage or impassable roads may be reported to Critz or Supervisory Civil Engineer Monica Goepferd at the Wind River/Big Horn Basin District Office, 307-347-5100.

Bighorn Lake

The elevation in Big Horn Lake has come up more than four feet to the current elevation of 3630.2 feet since March 6, reports Clayton Jordan of the Bureau of Reclamation, Montana office.

“Under the current conditions, releases from Yellowtail Dam to the Big Horn River are being increased each day in 500 cubic feet per second (CFS) increments until we reach a river release of 5,000 CFS,” said Jordan.  “We will be at the 5,000 CFS release on Thursday, March 13.”

Jordan referred to a report released earlier in the month that stated,  “Mountain snowpack in the Big Horn River Basin is well above average.  Unseasonably warm weather is quickly melting the low elevation snow causing inflows into Big Horn Lake to increase to over 8,400 CFS.  As a result, storage in Big Horn Lake is slowly refilling.  To continue evacuating storage as planned in preparation for the snowmelt runoff, releases will be increased.”

By Patti Carpenter