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Crews allowing more water through Black Eagle Dam near Great Falls to ease flooding

Posted at 8:19 PM, Jun 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-21 22:19:09-04

NorthWestern Energy utility and hydroelectric crews are closely monitoring flooding and high-water conditions in northcentral Montana and along the Missouri River.

The company said in a press release on Thursday morning that problems with electric and natural gas service have so far been isolated. About 40 natural gas meters have been shut off due to high water in the Augusta, Simms, Fort Shaw, and Sun River areas. The shutoffs are intended to avoid safety issues with meters damaged by high water. All the meters will be inspected before they are turned back on. Crews will also work with customers to re-light pilot lights on natural-gas fueled appliances.

To date, there have been no reports of damage to power poles or the electrical grid in the Great Falls area.

Operators at the five NorthWestern Energy hydroelectric dams continue to see very high flows on the Missouri River near Great Falls.

Early Thursday, flows reached nearly 40,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Black Eagle Dam, the most upstream of the five dams near Great Falls. Those flows are similar to those experienced in 2011. In 1975, flows at the Great Falls dams reached 60,200 cfs.

NorthWestern Energy warns that people should stay away from the areas above and below the dams, stating that it is not safe to recreate near the dams at this point, due to high flows and possible future water releases.

Due to the high flows and large amount of debris in the river, NorthWestern crews on Wednesday evening removed steel spillway beams to open three bays at Black Eagle Dam. The move was intended to allow more water and debris to pass through the dam. Large amounts of debris can hinder dam operations.

The move to spill more water and debris at Black Eagle is not expected to have significant impact on the operations of the four NorthWestern dams below Black Eagle.

The spillway beams and boards that were released will need to be replaced after the high flows subside. This will result in noticeably lower water levels in the reservoir above Black Eagle Dam. The timing of this drawdown will be tied to future flows and we cannot provide an accurate time frame for that drawdown at this point.

The company closed by stating: "We are monitoring river flows very carefully. We have full confidence in the ability of our dams and experienced crews to deal with the high flows and debris that comes with those flows."

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