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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Bonners Ferry residents paddling home amid flood

Record rainfall nearly overflows Kootenai

BONNERS FERRY, Idaho – To get from her front door to the end of the driveway, Alicia Tatum needs a boat.

Two weeks ago, she could park her car in the meadow surrounding the mobile home where she lives with her cousin. But steady rains and high flows in the Kootenai River have created a deep pool in the front yard.

Helpful friends brought over their aluminum fishing boat. On Tuesday, Tatum, 21, used it to take her laundry into town.

“I boated my laundry across because we don’t want to use the washer,” she explained, holding her shivering dog while yet another storm pelted Bonners Ferry with heavy rains. “We’re concerned about the septic system failing.”

It’s been an exceptionally soggy month in this North Idaho town, with 4.39 inches of rainfall recorded during June. The relentless dousing set a precipitation record, surpassing the previous record of 3.96 inches in June 1981.

The Kootenai River hadn’t overflowed its banks, but some low-lying areas are getting seepage from the river. In Tatum’s neighborhood, part of the road was flooded and water lapped at the mobile home’s foundation.

Wooden pallets, originally set out to help Tatum and her cousin navigate the muddy yard, were floating.

The storm that began Tuesday morning was expected to dump up to 1.5 inches of rain on the Kootenai River basin in a 24-hour period, before drier weather arrives later this week.

The river’s elevation at Bonners Ferry was at 1,764.8 feet Tuesday evening, which was slightly above flood stage. The flow was expected to peak either Tuesday night or this morning.

Operations at Libby Dam were helping to reduce the flood risk for both the U.S. and Canadian portions of the Kootenai basin, according to officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, they said they were continuing to release some water through the dam to maintain space in the reservoir behind it. The reservoir has been rising by as much as 18 inches per day over the past week. By Saturday, it could be within one foot of full pool.

Bonners Ferry was socked in Tuesday, with clouds obscuring the views of the mountains. Dashing from the car to the curb resulted in a soaking.

“It’s a good soup day,” said Karen Helsper, a waitress at the Panhandle Cafe on Main Street, who was dish-ing up split pea soup for damp customers. “I’m selling a lot of coffee and hot tea, too.”

To Dave and Janet Smith, the heavy rain and jade-green landscape was a marvel. The Texas couple stopped at the cafe for lunch after a week’s vacation in Alberta’s Banff National Park.

Central Texas is in the midst of a multiyear drought. At their home near Austin, water rationing limits the couple to watering their lawn once per week.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Dave Smith admonished locals complaining about the weather.

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