Ice Jams, Inflexible Regulation Causing Flooding on Rocky Mountain Front

Basements and crawl spaces flooded in Choteau

By Justin Franz

GREAT FALLS — An ice jam that has caused flooding along a creek in central Montana has nearly submerged a town park and is rising into residents’ basements and crawl spaces.

The ice jam came after subzero temperatures and high ground water in Choteau and is likely to remain until warmer temperatures thaw the blocked culverts and stream beds, Great Falls Tribune reported Thursday.

Water up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) deep was reported on some streets after ice traveling down Spring Creek was backed up, forcing high ground water, weather officials said.

The ice jam came after temperatures dropped to 20 degrees below zero (2 below Celsius), officials said.

Sewer main lines are completely filled and crews have sandbagged manholes in the area to avoid further surface water infiltration, city officials said.

Residents are encouraged to take shorter showers and reduce the about times toilets are flushed to avoid overwhelming the sewer system.

A diversion ditch constructed years ago was recently halted leaving room for the channel to be clogged up by growing trees and foliage, contributing to the flooding, city officials said.

Permission to clean up the channel and restore the diversion ditch requires multiple permits and authorization, officials said.

“Fish, Wildlife and Parks oversees the fishery, and DNRC (Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) technically owns the ground underneath the creek, so you’ve got to deal with both of those guys,” Mayor Chris Hindoien said. “Even inside city limits we have very little authority to deal with anything in the water. I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a backhoe down here to break up ice. The amount of paperwork and process needed to do that would take until the fourth of July before anything would happen.”

It was not immediately known how many houses could be impacted in the town of about 1,700 people located southeast of Glacier National Park.

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