Government agencies advise those seeking relaxation to avoid flood events
HELENA—River renovators should avoid contact with water during and for at least two weeks after flood events. Flooding has already hit communities in the Yellowstone River basin, and more flooding is expected in other parts of the state, such as the Flathead River basin and Missoula County. Floodwater can carry potentially hazardous debris and can carry chemicals and bacteria from damaged or overloaded wastewater treatment plants and flooded homes, businesses, and agricultural fields.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has closed fishing access points along the Stillwater, Yellowstone, Madison and Gallatin Rivers due to safety concerns related to bank collapses, debris jams and exposed or submerged infrastructure (myfwp.mt.gov/fwpPub/ all restrictions). Sites will reopen on a case-by-case basis, site conditions and safety concerns permitting.
“It’s likely that there will be more swimming and boating hazards as the water recedes,” said Hope Stockwell, administrator of the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division. “We are opening locations as soon as possible, but boaters and other recreational seekers should still exercise extreme caution on the water.”
Recreation seekers should also be aware that rivers and streams may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. This is especially true downstream of communities that have experienced widespread flooding, as it can take time for water treatment systems to return to normal even after floodwaters have receded.
The Department of Environmental Quality monitors water quality statewide and will conduct additional flood monitoring in areas where monitoring projects are already underway, such as B. in the catchment areas of the Yellowstone River. While this can help identify contamination, sampling will not determine the source of the contaminants – whether it came from overloaded water treatment plants or general runoff from other distributed sources.
“Even during moderate rain events, it’s common to find high concentrations of E. coli bacteria in rivers and streams,” said Darrin Kron, supervisor of DEQ’s Water Quality Monitoring and Evaluation Division. “In light of historic rain and flooding events in parts of Montana, people should take extra precautions and avoid drinking, fishing and swimming in rivers after floods.”
When it comes to public drinking water supplies, DEQ works with municipalities and certified operators to educate residents on boil commands and advice to ensure the safety of water systems when they are brought back into service. Public water systems that are experiencing or expecting problems related to flooding should contact DEQ for support and guidance. The public can find additional flood-related resources on the DEQ Flooding Resources website.
“Our technical support staff are proactive in communicating with wastewater treatment plant operators,” said Jon Kenning, director of the DEQ Water Protection Bureau. “Most facilities are currently operating normally, although the main problem is poor treatment options when facilities are struggling with high inflows.”
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), ingesting flood water, which contains even small amounts of bacteria (like E. coli), can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes vomiting or fever.
“Residents should only use water from a safe source for drinking and washing or preparing food,” said Magdelena Scott of the DPHHS Communicable Diseases and Epidemiology Section. “Additionally, contact with contaminated flood water can cause wound infections, skin rash or tetanus. The best way to protect yourself is to stay away from flood waters. If you come into contact with potentially contaminated water, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible, dress any wounds, and seek medical attention if necessary. And wash contaminated clothing with hot water and detergent before wearing it again.”
The DPHHS environmental laboratory is available to conduct water testing for communities as needed. For more information, contact the lab at 800-821-7284.
DPHHS has also created a booklet with health tips on flood cleaning. The document contains information on water disinfection, food safety, health and hygiene, and mosquito and vector control.
DPHHS encourages Montans to turn to local county and tribal health departments as a resource for health issues specific to their jurisdiction. Here is a link to contact information for all county and tribal health departments in Montana.