Groups rush to strengthen Blackfoot levee as waters rise

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal From left, Emergency Management Director Scott Reese, Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis and Bingham County Commissioner Whitney Manwaring talk about the group effort to shore up the levee on the Snake River on Blackfoot’s north side. There’s concern the levee might fail as waters rise in the coming weeks.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
From left, Emergency Management Director Scott Reese, Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis and Bingham County Commissioner Whitney Manwaring talk about the group effort to shore up the levee on the Snake River on Blackfoot’s north side. There’s concern the levee might fail as waters rise in the coming weeks.

By Kendra Evensen, kevensen@journalnet.com 

BLACKFOOT — Multiple organizations are working together to quickly strengthen a levee holding back rising waters from the Snake River on the north side of Blackfoot.

Bingham County and Blackfoot crews created a staging area in a dry water hazard at the golf course and began armoring the nearby levee with large rocks last week. They continued their work on Tuesday.

R. Scott Reese, Bingham County’s emergency management director, said they hope these proactive efforts will prevent the water from breaching the levee in the months ahead.

Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis said he and Fire Chief Kevin Gray, who handles emergency management for the city, discussed the need to assess the levee soon after he took office in 2014.

They asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do an inspection around that time, but the organization wasn’t able to complete the work until last fall. In mid-February, the corps deemed the levee only minimally acceptable to the city, which has led to the quick response, Loomis said.

Due to concerns about the levee, considerable snowpack that could raise water levels as it melts this spring and summer, and a narrow window of time to fix the problem, Loomis signed a disaster declaration earlier this month.

The declaration has helped the city secure additional resources and sped up paperwork so they could get to work.

The local flood control district contributed $15,000 to the effort, which the city of Blackfoot matched. Bingham County is also providing in-kind work and equipment that has helped stretch resources.

“We’re doing this on a shoestring budget,” Reese said, adding that the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Corps of Engineers and contractors have also assisted in efforts to get things done as fast as possible. “Everybody is pulling together.”

Loomis agrees.

He said none of this would be possible without the flood control district, the county and others assisting with the work.

In the event of a significant flooding incident, officials say that homes, businesses, a school, the airport and golf course could all be affected. Damages could rise into the hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s why they’re working hard to prevent such an incident.

Thanks to lessons learned from previous floods, Reese said they have some advantages when it comes to dealing with high water today.

As of Monday, Palisades Reservoir was only 31 percent full.

In addition, Reese said technology allows them to stay up to date on the average daily streamflows so they know what to expect. He noted Tuesday that the water was flowing at about 18,400 cubic feet per second.

Still, Mother Nature can create some surprises. So officials want to do everything they can to prepare.

Crews are focusing on the weak points of the levee and surrounding areas for now. But they plan to take a closer look at the entire 2,600-foot stretch in the months ahead and make sure they take care of any issues, Reese said.

Loomis said their efforts are keeping them away from other important work, like repairing streets, for now. But they have to make the levee a priority in the small window of time that they have.

“We’re making sure this is working,” he said.