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Billings Southside neighborhood floods again after storm drain backup

City made $4 million improvements after 2018 flood
Storm drain
Posted at 5:37 PM, Jun 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 08:22:18-04

BILLINGS — An inch and a half of rain Sunday, coupled with a blockage to the city's storm drain outflow, caused a Southside Billings neighborhood to flood, even though it’s almost a half mile away from the Yellowstone River. The same area flooded in 2018, and it could be a big problem in the future.

"The city said it was fixed four years ago," said Jennifer Honstain. "Clearly, it’s not."

Honstain remembers the 2018 flood all too well.

"It got real bad for us and a couple of other houses," she said. "(Water) was coming through the floor and wall."

Storm drain Ring video
A truck drives through nearly a foot of water on Cambridge Road on Billings' Southside Sunday after the city's storm drain system filled above capacity.

It made Honstain install much better French drains on her own dime, so Sunday’s event wasn’t as bad. But footage from her Ring doorbell cam showed close to a foot of water on the streets in front of her house. It had the sump pump working overtime.

"Every 15 seconds it would shoot off 20 gallons of water," she said. "Now (Monday morning), it's down to about every 40 seconds."

"It is not comfortable to have a lot of water in your street," admitted Debi Meling, the City's Public Works Director.

Storm drain flood
Jennifer Honstain's sump pump was working overtime after 1.5 inches of rain fell on Billings Sunday, pumping out 20 gallons of water every 15 seconds, according to Honstain.

Meling had numerous crews on scene Sunday trying to push the water somewhere, but a preliminary inspection Monday showed last week’s record Yellowstone River levels have blocked the city’s output from its four-foot drain.

"It looks like the river moved during this big event," Meling said, "and it looks like it silted it in."

That’s exactly what the river did in 2018, when it eroded 25 feet of bank and took the city’s output with it. So they spent $4 million building a gate next to the four-foot drain to hold the river at bay.

"If the river was able to go, we’d have water up to Amend Park," Meling said.

Storm drain gate
The City of Billings spent $4 million building this gate in 2019 to keep the Yellowstone River from colliding with the storm drain system.

The gate is directly across I-90 from Cambridge Drive, and Meling said it has definitely helped the problem, but it’s just a temporary solution. A long-term goal requires two things: a lot more money.

"We spend about $23-30 million for primary water and wastewater facilities each year, for them to function," Meling said. "This is $5 million a year."

And two, there's need to be a better understanding of how often these storms can happen.

"Our facilities are designed around a two-year storm," Meling said, "but we really need to be looking at addressing bigger storms in some areas."

Especially these low-lying ones without the benefit of gravity.