Floods devastate crops in Idaho

BONNERS FERRY, Idaho – Boundary County farmers are watching as they lose everything to the advancing Kootenai River.

And local officials say the region’s flooding may not have peaked.

The flooding is the result of a heavy snowpack and last week’s extensive thunderstorms in Montana and Canada. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a near-record amount of water from Montana’s Libby Dam last week, increasing levels in the Kootenai River. More releases are likely to come.

Farmer Dallas Amoth already has 35 acres of winter wheat crop underwater, and he’s losing more each day – a loss he estimates about $24,000 so far. The loss comes at a time when farmers are already stretched by the high cost of diesel and fertilizer.

“We have a $200,000 question mark hanging in front of us right now,” Amoth told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. “At the current water level, we’re surviving.”

The high water prompted Idaho Gov. Jim Risch to declare a state of emergency on Friday. Officials say the flows pose a risk to the extensive dike system that protects farmland along the Kootenai River as it flows into British Columbia. As much as $2.5 million in crop damage is believed to have occurred in the past two weeks.

Water is seeping under the dikes, washing out acres of crops every day, officials said, and because the dikes haven’t been well maintained since the Libby Dam opened in 1975, locals are worried they may break, causing widespread flooding.

Two weeks ago, an 800-foot section of dike just across from the downtown area started to erode. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already spent $650,000 fixing the section.

Forecasters are predicting rain showers for the next several days, and that could swell the Kootenai River to two feet above flood level.

Amoth’s farmland – along with about 2,000 acres of farmland across the valley – is outside the dikes, leaving it unprotected.

Inside the dikes, farmers have fought seepage problems for nearly a month, since the water first rose above 1,758 feet. Many are trying to pump out the water.

If the worst-case scenario occurs and the dikes break, many farmers will be out of business.

“We’d be flooded out, and I would have to go work for Les Schwab,” said Randy Peterson, who farms about 2,000 acres with his father, Larry Peterson.

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