The Choteau Volunteer Fire Department was called out on Jan. 11 to help break up ice jams in Spring Creek that were forcing the creek out of its banks, threatening homes and city infrastructure in the City Park.
Choteau Public Works Director Mike Maples on Sunday said he got a call Saturday morning from homeowner Randy Morris, who lives along Spring Creek north of the City Park. Morris told him that an ice jam was causing localized flooding.
Maples, who was hunting ducks just outside of town, dispatched on-call city employee Colin Lightner and Councilman Steve Howard, who found the main problem to be at the culvert going under the southwest access road to the Choteau baseball fields and the rodeo grounds.
An ice jam there was forcing the creek out of its banks. By 1 p.m. when Maples got back into Choteau, the creek had gone down near Morris’ home, but was still spreading in the City Park.
He called out the Choteau Volunteer Fire Department at about 2 p.m. and city crew members and volunteer fire fighters responded to the culverts on the rodeo-grounds access road and broke up the ice jam.
Maples said he used the city’s backhoe from the bank of the creek to break up ice on the south side (downstream side) of the culverts. The firefighters used their big spray gun, mounted on one of the engine trucks, to melt the ice on the north side of the culverts and to cut a path through the ice.
They did not disturb the streambed, Maples said, adding that he planned to contact Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Monday to let the regulatory agency know of the need to break up the ice. As a governmental agency, Maples said, the city does not need to obtain an emergency 310 permit to do streambed work, but instead works with FWP to obtain a different permit when necessary.
“We tried to stay as light handed as we possibly could, and we did. So far, so good,” he said.
Maples said the work was holding as of Sunday as the level of the creek was down at least a foot. “It seemed to be holding pretty well on Sunday,” he said.
He wanted to be proactive about controlling ice jams on Spring Creek since the city is seeing a direct correlation between ice jams on Spring Creek and the Teton River and flooding of groundwater in people’s basements in homes along Spring Creek and on the west side of town paralleling Seventh Avenue Northwest.
Maples said it was his judgment that it would be better for the crew and the volunteers to work in 40-degree weather on Saturday rather than have to go out on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week when high temperatures were forecast to be well below zero.
In December, when an ice jam formed on the Teton River north of town, multiple households in Choteau reported basement and crawl space flooding from groundwater coming up below their homes. The city asked citizens to fill out reports and Maples has been able to map those locations, finding two main flooding hot areas — one along Spring Creek, which runs north to south through the east side of Choteau and one on the west side of Seventh Avenue Northwest, also running north and south through the city.
That flooding resolved when the ice jam on the Teton River broke up on its own.