After Yellowstone, floods threatened Montana’s largest city

RED LODGE, Mon. – Devastating flood waters that wiped out miles of roads and hundreds of bridges in Yellowstone National Park and flooded dozens of homes in surrounding communities moved downstream on Wednesday, threatening to cut off fresh drinking water to residents of Montana’s largest city.

Heavy rain over the weekend and melting mountain snow made the Yellowstone River flow at a historically high level of 16 feet (4.9 meters) as it raced past Billings. The city receives water from the river and was forced to close its treatment plant around 9:30 a.m. because it could not operate efficiently at such high water levels.

“None of us planned a 500-year flood in Yellowstone when we designed these facilities,” said Debbie Melling, the city’s director of public affairs.

Billings had only a 24- to 36-hour water supply, and employees asked their 110,000 residents to save, while optimizing that the river would fall fast enough for the plant to resume operations before supplies were completed. The city also stopped watering parks and boulevards, and its fire department filled its trucks with water from the Yellowstone River.


Corey Motis of the National Meteorological Service in Billings said the river is expected to reach the ridge on Wednesday night and fall under a minor flood, 13.5 feet (4.1 meters), by mid to late Thursday.

The unprecedented and sudden floods that raged in Yellowstone earlier this week drove all of more than 10,000 visitors from the country’s oldest park, which remains closed. He damaged hundreds of homes in nearby communities, although no one was reportedly injured or killed.

It also pushes a popular fishing river off course – probably permanently – and could force roads cut off from watercourses to be rebuilt to safer distances.

On Wednesday, residents of Red Lodge, Montana, a town on the north side of the park, used shovels, carts and a pump to clear thick mud and debris from a flooded home on the shores of Rock Creek.


“We thought we had it, and then a bridge came out. And he diverted the river and the water started rolling from behind, smashed the basement window and started filling my basement, “said Pat Ruzic. “And then I gave up. It’s as if the water has won. “

Park officials say the northern half of the park is likely to remain closed all summer, a devastating blow to local economies that rely on tourism.

In Gardiner, Montana, businesses have just begun to recover from the shrinking tourism caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and are hoping for a good year as Yellowstone celebrates its 150th anniversary, said Bill Berg, a commissioner in Park County.

“This is the city of Yellowstone and living and dying from tourism and it will be quite a hit,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out how to keep things together.”

Meanwhile, as the waters recede, park officials are turning their attention to the enormous effort to rebuild many miles of ruined roads and hundreds of washed-out bridges, many of which were built for tourists. Yellowstone superintendent Kam Sholi said assessment teams would not be able to calculate the damage until next week.


Kelly Gunan, an associate professor at the University of Southern Utah and an expert on national park and recreation management, said the recovery would be a long process.

“This is something that we will definitely feel the impact of in the next few years,” Gunan said.

As efforts to rebuild Yellowstone begin, rangers will need to consider the reality of the park’s altered landscape, as well as potential future natural disasters.

“We know for sure that climate change is causing more natural disasters, more fires, bigger fires and more floods and bigger floods. These things are going to happen, and they’re probably going to happen a lot more, “said Robert Manning, a retired professor of environment and natural resources at the University of Vermont. Officials may also be able to rebuild in a way that is more environmentally friendly than roads and bridges built a decade or a century ago, he said.


The rains hit just as hotels in the area have been filled with summer tourists in recent weeks. More than 4 million visitors reported from the park last year. The wave of tourists does not subside until autumn, and June is usually one of the busiest months in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone officials hope to reopen the southern half of the park next week, which includes the Old Faithful Geyser. Closing the northern part of the park will protect visitors from features that include Tower Fall, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley, which is known for viewing wildlife such as bears and wolves.

It has not yet been decided how it will deal with all tourists when only half of the park is open.

“One thing we definitely know is that half the park can’t sustain the entire visit,” Sholi said on Tuesday. The park will probably introduce some kind of reservation system or entry time to let people in without sending the crowd to the sky.



Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writers Amy Beth Hanson of Helena, Becky Borr of Juneau, Alaska, RJ Rico of Atlanta and Brian Mellie of Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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After Yellowstone, floods threatened Montana’s largest city

Source link After Yellowstone, floods threatened Montana’s largest city

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