Water flowing in the county as temperatures continue to rise

Thursday, March 21, 2019
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Tracy Dey photo

Vehicles maneuver through water on the Bloomfield Highway Tuesday morning. Warm temperatures causing quick snow melt has created flooding on several roads throughout the county. Drivers are reminded to use caution when coming upon flooded roadways.


River watchers are on high alert as the warm tempertures push snowmelt beyond the banks of creekbeds and ice begins to rot on the Yellowstone.

Normally by mid-March, the ice on the Yellowstone River begins to thaw and the water moves ice chunks downstream, but this year’s colder-than-normal February weather delayed the annual “going out” of the river.

Dawson County Emergency Service coordinator Mary Jo Gehnert is on high alert this week, however, as she knows the potential risks of flooding from the ice movement.

As for when the river will actually go out, it’s hard to say. Local officials discussed the timeline during their Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting Tuesday.

Although there were reports of water on top of the ice, officials at the meeting were quick to explain it away as run off from nearby creeks, which have begun to run. Those creeks wreaked some havoc on county roads as culverts not yet free of ice could not handle the rush of spring snowmelt.

As of the morning of Wednesday, March 20, Gehnert said she noticed some ice break up on the Yellowstone between the Bell Street Bridge and Black Bridge, but said it wasn’t anything significant.

While the Yellowstone is staying still, it’s been another story on the county roads.

“The flooding on the county roads is horrendous,” Gehnert said. “We’ve had reports of water running over the roads. Some culverts eroding. We’re urging people to use extreme caution. Turn around, don’t drown.”

The highway near Bloomfield was covered in a foot of water Tuesday. Gehnert also said that county roads 539, 544, 532 and others near Bloomfield had some flooding as well.

While this year’s river may seem late, Gehnert’s records show that this is still in the average time window for when the river goes out. According to her records, the latest date the river has ever gone out was April 4, 1914.

A concern among response personnel in any given emergency is communication. The potential for flooding gave officials at the LEPC meeting a platform to remind citizens of the importance of making sure they are informed.

In the past, services could utilize Reverse 911, which allowed them to dial residents in an emergency. However, Dawson County Sanitarian Kevin Peña pointed out that the program only works on landlines, which have become scarce over the past decade.

Instead, responders have been working to implement a program known as Regroup, which allows for mass communication to cell phone users and emergency service personel in a disaster.

While this is a very powerful service, there aren’t as many people who are signed up for it as Gehnert and others would like to be. Currently one dispatch employee knows how to operate the system and is working to train others.

“The hard part is getting people to sign up,” Gehnert said. “When I mapped the area, I put a 1 mile diameter around the Yellowstone River. There are only 17 people signed up on Regroup for that whole area. It’s kind of disheartening,” Gehnert said. In order to spread awareness of the service, Gehnert is working to get the word again. Those that sign up for the service can receive area specific alerts during an emergency scenario.

According to Peña, local officials decided to implement this system after the oil spill in 2015.

“Initially, the reason for this is that there was a lot of public blow back when oil spill happened in 2015,” Peña said, who explained that people felt very misinformed at the time. Gehnert checked around the region and was happy to report overall membership has been growing. According to Peña, there are about 2,000 users currently.

For those who haven’t signed up for the service you can do so by going to dawsoncountymontana.org . You can choose to get notifications via cell phone call, text message, landline, email or all of the above.”

Reach Jon Decker at news@rangerreview.com .