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Damage tally from spill rises in Idaho

| June 16, 2006 12:00 AM

BY ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

There are no reports yet of property damage from landowners along the Montana stretches of the Kootenai River but there may be extensive damage to agricultural lands in Idaho.

Despite heavy rains on Wednesday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expecting to maintain Libby Dam outflows at 38,000 cubic-feet per second, which includes a 14,000 cfs spill, for the remainder the week.

Paul Koski, hydrologist at the Corps' Reservoir Control Center in Portland, said recent weather is expected to boost inflows into Lake Koocanusa to near 49,000 cfs late on Wednesday and into Thursday. Sometime on Friday, Koski expects those inflows to begin to drop.

"As inflows recede over the weekend and next week, spill may be reduced while the reservoir drafts to about two feet from full," he said.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, June 14, Lake Koocanusa was at 2,457.44 feet above sea level or 1.6 feet from full.

The Corps is attempting to slow the rate of refill and "maintain the ability" to control the flows downstream, Koski said.

An emergency response crew from the Corps is working in the Bonners Ferry area to protect private property behind dikes threatened by the Kootenai River, which flows are being boosted locally by swollen streams and rivers in western Montana and northern Idaho.

As of Wednesday morning, the river was at 1762.24 at Bonners Ferry. Koski said the National Weather Service is calling for local precipitation to boost the river at Bonners Ferry to 1764.2 feet on Thursday, June 15. That's two-tenths above flood stage.

"It would be very remote that we would have any over-the-bank flooding downtown," said Bob Graham, incident commander for emergencies for Boundary County, Idaho. "At the Kootenai River Inn, which is a low spot, we've come close to sandbagging three times."

However, anytime the river is over 17.60 there are problems to dikes and agricultural crops in the fields north of Bonners Ferry, Graham said.

"Fifty-four miles of dikes have taken a hit and need repair according to the Corps," Graham said. "The estimate for repair is about $1 million a mile."

That comes on top of an estimated $6 million in crop damage due to ground water percolating up and the rain, he said.

Graham noted that the river has been over the 17.60 level since May 17.

And Graham remains worried about the snowpack in the northern reaches of the drainage.

"I hear there is about 42 percent of it remaining," he said.

The good news is that the weather forecast for this area out of Spokane doesn't see any major drying period for the next few weeks but certainly no heavy bouts of rain, Graham noted.