Friday, April 22, 2016

GF TRibune story, 5-31-2014

Swift, Two Medicine dams quickly replaced

The half-century-old, earthen Swift Dam probably collapsed in a matter of minutes June 8, 1964, following a perfect storm of accelerated snowmelt and heavy rains that swelled Birch Creek to unbearable proportions. Coupled with the collapse of Lower Two Medicine Dam on Two Medicine Creek soon after on the same day, the deluge claimed 30 lives and caused an estimated half-billion-dollars of damage in today's dollars.
Both dams are rebuilt. And they're much more sturdy.
"The dam that's there now is a completely different structure," said Vernon Stokes, manager of Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Co. "The spillway is enlarged and is all concrete now. It also has an emergency spillway on top of the dam."
He said the Bureau of Reclamation designed and supervised the construction of Swift Dam and turned it over to the PCCR at completion in 1967. PCCR owns and operates the dam.
The current concrete-arch structure is 205 feet high with a length at its crest of 573 feet.
The old Swift Dam had only a little concrete in it. The rebuilt structure "is nothing like it." The all-concrete spillway now "doesn't erode away," and the capacity of the spillway was increased on the new dam, Stokes said.
Swift Reservoir has a storage capacity of 30,000 acre feet, which is the same as the original dam. An acre-foot is 43,560 cubic feet or about 325,853 gallons.
"We've got a lot better gates than what was on the old original Swift Dam," Stokes said.
PCCR workers constantly monitor both dam and water conditions to avert disaster.
The Swift Dam tender visually inspects the structure every day, also checking elevations and inflows. The structure gets yearly maintenance and is inspected every five years by a licensed engineer, he said.
This spring, "we have tremendous snowpack up there," on the nearby Rocky Mountain Front, Stokes said, so "inflows are checked about every two hours.
"We open the dam and release water according to what's coming in," he said. While Swift Reservoir has a maximum capacity of about 35,000 acre-feet, "once it gets up to 30,000 and we've had a rain event, we increase flow," through the dam. He said if the primary spillway fills up, there's an emergency spillway on top of the dam for excess flow, plus two operating gates. "We can open those up as needed."
Swift Dam was built to supply irrigation, not for flood control. He said with its small capacity, the reservoir "can fill up in five or six days if the flow is high enough."
The new structure is "a good strong dam with proven design," Stokes said. "It could withstand just about anything other than a pretty good-sized earthquake."
For any level of possible problem, the canal company has an emergency action plan. "If anything happens to go wrong or there's a big increase in flow, we have a call list," to warn residents to expect high water on Birch Creek, Stokes said. "I don't believe that was in place" in 1964.
There are also a lot more tools now, with stream-flow forecasts put out by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, which includes snowpack and snowmelt. He said the Bureau of Reclamation has put Swift Dam on its Hydromet data-collection system, which provides "readings on inflow every two hours and a lot more tools to work with."
Lower Two Medicine Dam was 50 years old when it collapsed in the 1964 flood. The dam was rebuilt in 1967 and is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs today. The safety of dams officer/environmental engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Billings was unable to respond to the Tribune's questions about new dam and today's safety procedures for this story because he was unable to obtain permission from the BIA's public affairs officer in Washington D.C. in time to meet the publication deadline.
How about Great Falls' 5 dams?
Carrie Harris, manager of engineering and projects for PPL Montana, noted the hydropower producer's five Great Falls-area dams were all in place before 1964 and "withstood the flood without problems. They are designed to withstand a flood exceeding, by quite a bit, the volumes that were produce in the 1964 flood."
She said the PPL dams, although built long-before the Allenton, Pa.-based company acquired them in 1999, "were designed so they can 'overtop' and the dam still stands."
After a big nationwide campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, operators of some older dams installed post-tension anchors, which use thick, stranded wire cables tied into an anchor that is drilled and grouted into bedrock, she said. The anchors are tensioned and act to tie the dam to the riverbed.
"Black Eagle's spillway has rock anchors to bedrock," Harris said, and "portions of Rainbow and Ryan have post-tensioned anchors."
In addition to design and construction changes, she said PPL has a rigorous routine of workers looking for any changes in the dam structure.
This includes:
• Daily observances by workers, with more thorough monthly examinations.
• Annual inspection done by engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
• Every five years an independent consultant is hired to inspect the dam to ensure the structures are meeting current dam stability criteria.
This is coupled with ongoing maintenance, she said.
Oldest dams rehabilitated
Black Eagle and Rainbow dams, the oldest in the Great Falls area, have been rehabilitated. Originally constructed as timber-crib dams, they had a timber framework filled with rocks and concrete to create a dam.
Black Eagle began in operation 1891. During a 1908 flood, workers had to blow a hole in the dam to ease the water flow. It generated no power for almost 20 years, until it was completely rebuilt as a concrete dam and went back online in 1927.
Rainbow first went online in in 1910. Harris said "a major rehabilitation of the spillway portion of the dam was completed in the early 1990s. The rehabilitation consisted of full and partial mass concrete replacement of the original rock-fill timber crib."
When water rises to a level of concern, "we have standard operating procedures for the spillway," and rules for opening "this gate, and then this gate," to let more water flow downstream.
She notes that the Great Falls dams — Black Eagle, Rainbow, Cochrane, Ryan and Morony — are hydroelectric dams, so their main function is power generation, not flood control. They operate on a run-of-river basis, meaning their normal status is to let through the natural river flow. "But Canyon Ferry is our friend upstream. If things get crazy on the Sun River (Canyon Ferry operators) can help us out by holding back water," in the Missouri to mitigate an abnormal influx of the Sun where it meets the Missouri in Great Falls.
The Bureau of Reclamation, owner of Canyon Ferry Dam, "is a big part of our emergency planning."
She said "for the Missouri River at Great Falls, downstream of the confluence with the Sun River, the largest estimated historic peak flood was pre-Canyon Ferry construction and occurred in 1908 with a flow of approximately 140,000 cubic feet per second. All the Great Falls dams are designed to withstand a probably maximum flood of 298,000 cfs."
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Marc Stergionis at 406-791-6585 or Twitter: @GFTrib_MarcS
Editor's note: Lower Two Medicine Dam is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
PPL Action Plan
PPL Montana has emergency action plans in place for all its facilities, said Carrie Harris, manager of engineering and projects. The dam operator provides safety training and conducts drills annually.
When a situation arises where flooding could become a problem, PPL has three different warning levels for the public.
• Non-failure flood warning.
A situation where waterways are at or near flood stage and PPL Montana operationally does something that may aggravate downstream flooding. This would be "actions that we might have to take to deal with the situation that would additionally increase outflows thus add flows to already flooding rivers," she said.
• Potentially hazardous situation is developing.
A failure may develop, but preplanned actions taken during certain events (major flood, earthquake, evidence of piping, etc.) may prevent or mitigate failure. Time permits a qualified engineer to inspect the dam and assess the potentially hazardous situation.
• Failure is imminent or has occurred.
Failure (uncontrolled release of the reservoir) caused by terrorism, sabotage, major earthquake, etc.
Harris said "all three levels have some contact with outside agencies who then may make additional notifications. The flood-flow warnings have the least number of external/agency notifications, while the dam failure has the most external/agency notifications.
"We also have functional exercises every five years for all people affected by a dam break," including emergency services personnel in the community where the exercise is being staged. An exercise was held in Great Falls last year, she said.
The series
» May 25: 30 of the 31 people who died in the floods perished on the Blackfeet Reservation
» Monday: Most of west Great Falls, Sun River valley under water, plus military response
» Tuesday: Those on the scene will never forget the drama at the head gates
» Wednesday: Choteau evacuated
» Thursday: The flood had long-lasting effects on area streams, rivers and landscape
» Today: Columbia Falls, Kalispell also experienced devastating floods, Page 1A
» Historical pages: Keep your eye out for full-page reproductions of Tribune pages from 1964 during the floods
Sun River overrun, in the words of a meteorologist who was there in 1964, and a family who survived it
Online galleries
Historic photos of the Sun River flooding

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Missoula water utility sold to private company 'without state permission'


POSTED: 12:09 PM Jan 11 2016   UPDATED: 10:34 PM Jan 11 2016
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Missoula water utility sold to private company 'without state permission'
MISSOULA, Mont. - 
Liberty Utilities purchased Mountain Water, Missoula's water utility, the Montana Public Service Commission announced Monday.

Liberty purchased Mountain Water's parent company, Park Water, in California and Mountain Water from the Carlyle Group for $327 million.
Officials say the sale went through Friday without PSC approval. PSC communications director Eric Sell told NBC Montana this is unprecedented.

Sell said the PSC met with attorneys Monday. The announcement prompted them to file court papers Monday afternoon to try to lift a court-ordered stay.

Commissioners want to talk to officials from the city, Liberty and Mountain Water. The motion says the only purpose is to hear what all sides have to say about the sale.

Missoula Mayor John Engen released a statement that said, in part, "The reality is that the City of Missoula won the condemnation case and has the court order to prove it. The City has the right to take possession of the water system at a price that has been determined in court."

The City of Missoula went to court to sue for ownership of Mountain Water under state eminent domain laws. A judge approved the purchase and the city was set to go to court Monday over the value of the water company, but instead the city dropped its appeal Friday.

Some residents we talked with say they want Missoula to own its water.

"We have a stake in how it's run and the upkeep of it and how much is charged for the utility," said Missoula resident David Tyson.

A commenter on KECI’s Facebook page said, "I think it's awesome. Engen wants to play ball with the big boys but he is way out of his league. This sale was being negotiated before the city even started."

Last week Engen said the city's next step would be to wait on an appeal currently in Montana Supreme Court filed by the Carlyle Group challenging the initial condemnation suit.
The following is a news release from Liberty Utilities:
Liberty Utilities announced the completion of its acquisition of Mountain Water Company as part of a larger purchase of Park Water Company. Based in Downey, California, Park Water owns and operates three regulated utilities engaged in the production, treatment, storage, distribution and sale of water including Mountain Water in Missoula and two other utilities in Southern California. The three utilities collectively serve approximately 74,000 customer connections and have more than 1,000 miles of distribution mains.
"We have been working together with Park Water Company over the last several months to ensure a smooth transition and we're looking forward to delivering high-quality  service to all  of our new water customers for decades to come," said Greg Sorensen, President of  Liberty  Utilities Co.
Missoula customers can be assured that the local people who serve them today will continue to serve them in the future. Operational decisions about resource conservation, infrastructure improvement, customer care and more will be local decisions, made by the same managers and employees who have served Missoula well for so many years. Liberty Utilities is committed to providing best-in-class customer care delivered at the local level and we will continue to be an active participant in this community. We look forward to being a good neighbor that remains focused on corporate responsibility, environmental protection and conservation, and preserving local jobs.
"Mountain Water has been honored to serve our customers in Missoula for many years," said John Kappes, General Manager of Mountain Water. "We have no doubt that Libe1iy Utilities, as an experienced utility that prides itself on community-oriented values, local management and custorner service, commitment to safety, and focus on corporate responsibility, will head a water utility system that continues to make decisions in the best interest of Montana's water resources and customers," said Mr. Kappes.
The sale to Liberty Utilities was originally announced in September, 2014. 
Liberty Utilities is a regulated water, natural gas and electric transmission and distribution utility, delivering responsive and reliable essential services to over 560,000 customers across the United States. With a local approach to management, service and suppo1i, we deliver efficient, dependable services to meet the needs of our customers. Liberty Utilities provides a superior customer experience through walk-in customer centers, locally focused conservation and energy efficiency initiatives, and programs for businesses and residential customers. We measure our performance in terrns of service reliability, an enjoyable customer experience, and an unwavering dedication to public and workplace safety.
The following is Missoula Mayor John Engen's full statement:
The company that lost Mountain Water Company (Carlyle) just purported to sell the company to Canada (Algonquin/Liberty). Carlyle’s and Algonquin’s announcement and supposed sale have no legal effect. The reality is that the City of Missoula won the condemnation case and has the court order to prove it. The City has the right to take possession of the water system at a price that has been determined in court.
The Carlyle Group, Algonquin and Liberty are taking inconsistent legal positions. In the process, they have thumbed their noses at two Montana State District Courts (Judge Townsend and Judge Halligan) and the Montana Public Service Commission. Only after Carlyle and Mountain Water lost the water system in court did they pursue this desperate course of action.
Carlyle and Mountain Water have shown a complete disregard for Montana Courts and Montana law, and Algonquin/Liberty appear not to be paying attention. While Carlyle and Mountain Water still think they are above the law, the City expects they and their Canadian friends will continue to lose in Court, and the water system will be in Missoula’s control soon.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Supreme Court wades through water dispute between Curry Cattle Co. and PCC&RC

Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2016 6:00 am
By PHIL DRAKE Great Falls Tribune

The Montana Supreme Court waded through five points of contention in a water rights issue and then sent it back to a water court for further adjudication.

The court voted 6-1 in a decision released Tuesday in the case Gene and Cheryl Curry and the Curry Cattle Co. v. the Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Co. (PCC&RC). The Currys had filed an appeal of an order made by the Montana Water Court and PCC&RC cross-appealed portions of the order.

The court addressed five decisions the Montana Water Court made, including if water rights developed under the Carey Land Act are limited by historical use, was it wrong for the Water Court to grant Pondera “a service area” rather than base it on historically irrigated land? And did the Water Court err by ruling PCC&RC storage rights were used beneficially on Birch Creek Flats prior to 1973?

“We affirm the Water Court’s conclusion that Pondera’s rights are not limited by the shareholders’ actual historical acreage irrigated,” Justice Michael Wheat wrote. “We further affirm the Water Court’s conclusion that Pondera is entitled to a service area.

“However, we hold the Water Court erred when it determined the acreage included in the service area and we remand this issue to the court for further proceedings …”

Justice Laurie McKinnon dissented, saying she would reverse the Water Court’s opinion and affirm the Water Master’s opinion limiting PCC&RC’s annual irrigation to 56,556 acres.

She said the court was reinforcing the adage of “hard cases make bad law.”

“I believe that the principles the Court announces today will ultimately prove unsound,” she wrote. “There is no doubt in my mind that the rampant speculation that will ensue from this decision will force this Court’s hand to either expressly overrule the decision or distinguish it from future cases based on inconsequential facts.”

John Bloomquist, a Helena-based attorney who represents PCC&RC  was happy with the judges’ action.

“I think it is a good decision for Pondera and its water users,” he said, adding the high court addressed a couple of fundamental water law issues regarding water projects in terms of how water rights are historically recognized. Gene Curry also said the court ruled in his favor by excluding the Birch Creek Flats from the service area.

“It’s nice to have a decision, but I thought it would come a little sooner,” he said, noting the decision was not unanimous and the issue now goes back to the Montana Water Court.

The case originates from a water distribution controversy on Birch Creek, which is a tributary of the Marias River.

The Currys and Pondera own rights to divert waters from Birch Creek. The 9th Judicial District Court referred the case to the Water Court to determine the water rights. It has yet to receive final adjudication, according to the lawsuit.

PCC&RC supplies water to county residents, primarily for irrigation. It owns rights to divert water from Birch Creek and a distribution system that includes canals, ditches, siphons and headgates, the lawsuit states.

PCC&RC’s predecessors got some its water rights through use of the Carey Land Act, a federal act that encouraged settlement of the arid West. Once an irrigation was built under the direction of the state, an operating company was set up and it could sell patented land to stockholder-settlers.
PCC&RC is owned by its membership and water is distributed to shareholders on a per share basis. However, they did not receive individual water rights to irrigate their land, but had the right to the water in common with other settler-shareholders, court documents state.

Curry is a private landowner with irrigation water rights in the Birch Creek Flats and came into possession of his property and water rights in 1988.

In 2004, PCC&RC told Curry his water rights were less than had been earlier indicated by a former Pondera employee. Pondera then locked his headgate in 2005, the lawsuit states.

In her dissent, McKinnon stated this action and growing need threatened Curry’s way of life.

Curry filed a complaint with the 9th Judicial District Court in 2005, which sent the case to the Water Court. In 2006, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing Pondera from interfering with Curry’s water diversion from Birch Creek, the lawsuit states.

In 2013, the water master found that PCC&RC  was allowed to irrigate a maximum of 57,073 acres and not 72,000 acres, which at one time was believed to be the maximum.

Although PCC&RC claimed a service area of more than 377,000 acres, it was never historically serviced, court documents state.

The master also excluded the Flats from the service area, saying that water used on the Flats prior to 1973 was non-PCC&RC  water.

The Water Court disagreed with the master’s conclusion regarding the maximum number of shares and found that the 377,000 acre figure was appropriate and the Flats should be included.

The Supreme Court found the PCC&RC shareholders had a right to 377,255 acres.

“Merely, we agree with the Water Court that the 377,255.5 acres described as the service area will be sufficient for the purposes of its certification order …” it wrote.

The Supreme Court justices also found the Water Court did not err in respect to Curry’s appeal and PCC&RC ’s cross-appeal regarding specific water rights.

That also was sent back to the Water Court.

n.b.  The Curry extended families own the majority of the businesses in Valier, as well as ranches nearby.