Blackfoot in ‘imminent danger’ of widespread flooding

Dan Cravens/For the Journal  The Snake River north of Blackfoot, where city officials worry that a sudden strong runoff could cause a levee to breach.

Dan Cravens/For the Journal
The Snake River north of Blackfoot, where city officials worry that a sudden strong runoff could cause a levee to breach.

BLACKFOOT — Blackfoot officials are warning residents that a levee holding back water from the Snake River along the north side of the city could be in imminent danger of failing this spring.

According to a declaration of disaster signed by Blackfoot Mayor Paul M. Loomis last week, officials are fearful that a sudden rise in temperatures could cause a strong spring snowmelt.

The resulting quick runoff could breach the levee and cause widespread flooding in Blackfoot, officials say.

To address this issue, the city’s declaration of disaster was passed to help secure government funds to upgrade the levee and alert local residents about the flooding threat.

“We want everybody to take this seriously,” Loomis said. “The way we look at it, we have about a 3- to 4-week window to armor the levee.”

So far the local flood control district has agreed to pay $15,000 to help secure the levee, which the city of Blackfoot will match, according to Loomis. Bingham County will provide in-kind work and equipment for the project.

The declaration of disaster passed last week notes that the city does not have the resources to tackle the project on its own and needs help from other government agencies.

A recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspection found that the levee was ‘minimally effective’ during a severe event such as flooding.

But before the issues with the levee could be thoroughly addressed, the region was slammed with severe and repetitive snow- and rainstorms, which has caused widespread flooding across southern and eastern portions of Idaho over the past month.

Loomis said the city was first notified about the Corps of Engineers’ findings last month, and that the last time maintenance work was performed on the levee was in 2001.

Loomis also noted that if the rise in temperatures this spring is gradual and not sudden, the levee should be fine.

However, city officials are concerned about forecasts from state and federal agencies predicting a quick and sudden spring runoff.

According to Loomis, a sudden spring runoff could lead to a breach of the levee and flooding across Blackfoot, particularly near the Blackfoot Golf Course, and residences and businesses on the north side.

“It would be devastating to the north side of the city,” Loomis said.

According to the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, 18 counties across the state, including Bingham, have declared disasters for snow and/or flooding issues since widespread snowmelt began last month.