State agencies sound alarm on hazards posed by floodwaters

·3 min read

Jun. 23—State officials warned residents this week against coming into contact with floodwaters and recently flooded waterways, citing the risk of dangerous debris, chemicals and bacteria, the latter from released wastewater.

A joint press release issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality, Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Public Health and Human Services listed the Flathead River basin and Missoula County alongside the more heavily damaged Yellowstone River basin as areas where residents should use caution. Floodwaters carry plenty of risks alone, but also could leave area rivers and creeks contaminated with bacteria.

"This is especially true downstream of communities where widespread flooding occurred because water treatment systems may take time to return to normal operation even after floodwaters recede," reads the press release.

Staff with DEQ plan to continue monitoring areas affected by flooding to identify possible contamination. Officials warned, though, that sampling falls short of determining the source of contamination.

"Even during moderate rain events, it's common to find high levels of E. coli bacteria in rivers and creeks," said Darrin Kron, DEQ Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Section supervisor. "With historic rain and flood events occurring in parts of Montana, people should take extra precautions and avoid drinking, fishing, and swimming in rivers after flooding."

DEQ officials are working with municipalities wherever public water supplies are threatened, particularly on getting the word out about boil orders. Meanwhile, DPHHS recommended that anyone who comes into contact with floodwaters take immediate steps to protect themselves, saying it could lead to infected wounds, rashes or tetanus.

"The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of floodwater," said Magdelena Scott of the Communicable Disease and Epidemiology Section. "If you do come into contact with potentially contaminated water, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible, take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary. And, wash contaminated clothes with hot water and detergent before wearing them again."

Drinking floodwater containing bacteria could lead to diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and fever, officials said.

For more information about flooding and additional resources, go to: https://deq.mt.gov/about/FloodingResources

As for outdoor recreation, FWP reiterated closures for fishing access sites along the Stillwater, Yellowstone, Madison and Gallatin rivers. Safety hazards, including collapsing banks, debris jams and submerged structures, led to the closures. Officials are reopening sites around the state on a case-by-case basis.

"It's likely more floating and boating hazards will emerge as waters recede," said Hope Stockwell, Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division administrator. "We're opening sites as quickly as possible, but boaters and other recreators should still use an abundance of caution when on the water."

Separately, the Flathead County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday also reminded people to stay out of closure areas after receiving multiple reports of people following augmented reality games and geocaching locations into areas affected by flooding.

"We strongly advise you not to place yourself and children in danger by breeching closures, and high water advisories to participate in these platforms," the Sheriff's Office said in a release.