Work crews in central Montana on Sunday began repairing two washouts of a backcountry road as part of a plan to get to another washout on a larger road that has for a week cut off more than 300 people in a rural area near the town of Roundup.
Roundup resident Chris Holmes said it’s unclear when repairs might be complete on the washouts on Fittig Creek Road. He said when finished on that road, crews will begin working on a washout on County Road No. 4.
While repairs take place supplies will continue to be brought by boat to the residents isolated by flooding from the Musselshell River, he said.
Late Saturday emergency crews in the area raced to warn downstream residents of the impending failure of the middle reservoir in a series of three reservoirs on a private ranch, leading to fears the bottom reservoir might also fail.
“The middle one broke but the third one held it,” Holmes said.
Meanwhile Sunday in northwestern Montana, Fort Peck Lake reached a record level of 2,251.7 feet above sea level. Also on Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased the release of water at Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River that backs up Fort Peck Lake to a record 65,000 cubic feet per second to make room for water entering the lake at more than 80,000 cfs.
“Hopefully this is as high as we have to go,” said Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River water management office. “But it’s possible that we could go a little bit higher.”
She said the higher release from Fort Peck Dam won’t alter the releases at dams farther down on the Missouri River.
Farhat said about 9 million acre feet of runoff will go through Fort Peck Dam during May, June and July this year. In a typical year, she said, about 3.5 million acre feet go through the dam during those months.
An acre-foot is enough water to flood one acre by one foot.
She said 2.9 million acre feet went through the reservoir in May alone.
Much of the release from the dam now is the result of record rainfall the first part of June, she said, with some areas receiving more than 600 percent of normal. But snowmelt has also been contributing.
She said the snowpack that drains into Fort Peck Lake peaked at 141 percent of normal on May 2. Of that snowpack, she said, more than half has yet to melt off.
She noted Fort Peck Lake and reservoirs downstream won’t benefit from the additional runoff this year as the dams are operated to leave storage space each year for spring runoff. The releases from dams this year has been so great that some areas downstream have flooded.
“I would be hard pressed to find anything good about this,” she said Sunday. “It’s a tragic event.”
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