City declares flood emergency

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Kootenai flooding

BONNERS FERRY — The city of Bonners Ferry has declared a disaster emergency to deal with flooding and receive assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Kootenai River exceeded flood level early Monday morning and continued to rise, with levels at nearly 1,765 feet by Tuesday morning.

Thunderstorms over the weekend and early this week caused the river to surpass its 1,764-foot flood level. Tuesday saw a tenacious rainstorm dump even more water in the area, swelling the Kootenai and causing minor surface flooding throughout the valley.

The National Weather Service reported Boundary County received .81 inches of rain on Tuesday. Bonner County reported 1.47 inches of rain during the same period.

Although the river has not yet posed a

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major threat, dealing with the volume of water has become an issue. “We are experiencing problems with the city infrastructure,” City Council president Mike Klaus said.

With Mayor David Anderson out of town, the city council called a meeting Tuesday afternoon to grant Klaus the power to declare a state of emergency.

The declaration states that the city is in eminent threat of flood danger and has no more resources to deal with water removal and levee protection.

“It’s better to be prepared and not go, than go and not be prepared,” City Administrator Stephen Boorman said.

The Kootenai is expected to stay near or above flood stage until this weekend, when the weather forecast calls for clearing.

Last week, Boundary County Emergency Management Director Bob Graham predicted the river would rise above the flood mark, “But not by a lot, and not for long.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been keeping a watchful eye on the river, meeting regularly with Graham and officials at the Kootenai River Inn.

With an elevation of only 1,766 feet, Graham says the Inn is one of the primary locations of concern.

“We do have problems,” Graham said. “We may have to do some bagging.”

Tom Turpin, general manager of the Inn, said the rising water is an annual concern, but there is no need for alarm. “We’re monitoring it,” Turpin said.

People spent Wednesday filling and stacking sand bags along the shoreline below the Kootenai River Inn.

Volunteer flood fight team members and reservoir managers at the Corps remain on alert and ready to respond as necessary.

“We need to be prepared in case things don’t go well,” Boorman said. Boorman said this event has the potential to be worse than the flood of 2006.

Surface flooding has been reported throughout the valley, particularly in fields and low-lying areas. The river has overflowed its banks in many areas, though no damage to residences has been reported.

The Kootenai faces flooding nearly every year, but this has been an unusually wet spring, with record precipitation in the Kootenai River Basin at 200 percent of average.

Rain isn’t the only issue. The problems started months ago with a large snowpack that was late to melt. When temperatures finally warmed, the melt filled the Yaak, Moyie, and Fisher Rivers, all of which poured vast amounts of water into the Kootenai.

The Libby Dam is currently operating in risk management condition in efforts to keep the river levels controlled.

According to Scott Lawrence of the Seattle District of the Corps, the dam has been increasing outflow to manage water levels. The dam is currently seeing an inflow of 70,000 cubic feet per second and is releasing 40,000 cfs, up from last weekend’s 38,000 cfs. Officials at the dam expect more water before the weekend.

Levels at the Koocanusa Reservoir are near capacity, having risen a foot or more per day during the past week. The reservoir is expected to continue rising and may reach capacity before the end of the week.

The Corps reports this is the third highest reservoir volume in the past 50 years. They intend to hold the current flow rate and try to keep the river level at 1,765 through this week. The Corps is fighting to keep the upper pool from overflowing while also moderating the flow to keep the Kootenai from flooding. They are also concerned with Kootenay Lake, where levels are the highest they have been since 1974.

With more rain expected, Graham says it’s not over yet. “The river is still going up.”

The National Weather Service expects water levels to drop by this weekend, but flood and landslide warnings are still in effect. Boundary County Commissioners ask all boaters on the river above Bonners Ferry to observe a “no wake” zone to help with erosion control.

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