High water submerging marina, campgrounds at Fort Peck

2011-06-17T00:00:00Z 2014-08-25T10:32:42Z High water submerging marina, campgrounds at Fort PeckBy BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

To make sure that his underground fuel tank isn't washed away like an enormous bobber, Bill Hinrichs pumped the container dry and dumped dirt on top of it as record-high water has inundated his Rock Creek Marina on Fort Peck Reservoir's Dry Arm.

"What can you do?" Hinrichs said, the roar of a front-end loader audible in the background, as he builds a dike to try to protect the marina. "I guess I'm better off than people downstream."

A record-setting year of moisture has raised the 134-mile-long reservoir to its highest level ever, an elevation of 2,252.3 feet as of Thursday. Full pool at the reservoir is 2,250. Inflows from the Missouri River, boosted by high water on the Musselshell River, have forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release a record amount of water from its spillway -- 52,000 cubic feet per second, 65,000 cfs when combined with the water being run through the powerhouse.

Yet the lake level keeps rising.

"If we could just drop back to normally high inflows, we'd drop pretty quickly at these releases," said John Daggett, the Army Corps' dam operations manager in Fort Peck.

But so far that hasn't happened, so boaters, anglers and campers traveling to Fort Peck Reservoir for a summer getaway should take note: some campsites and access routes are underwater.

At Hell Creek State Park, north of Jordan, the 44 campsites outfitted with electricity and another 15 to 20 others are high and dry, but 60 more spaces are underwater, said park manager Dave Andrus.

"The lake will have to drop 5 feet before we'll get those spaces back," Andrus said.

Although Hell Creek Marina is open and has fuel, there is no potable water or flush toilets available.

Farther west, the road to the Crooked Creek boat ramp had an 18-inch slump that the county was supposed to repair. But the question may be: Why bother to go there?

"That part of the lake is still real muddy from all of the inflows," said Bill Berg of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds the reservoir. "There's a lot of debris in the water, too."

At Fourchette Bay, the lower end of the campground is under standing water and about one-third of the sites are not accessible, Berg said. The two routes into the bay from the north are wet in spots.

The Corps closed off the Devils Creek boat ramp, south of Fourchette, because low areas were under water. Near Fort Peck, the Corps also closed the Flat Lake access east of the spillway.

Perhaps nowhere is the situation worse, though, than at Rock Creek Marina where the main access road is 3 feet underwater in one place. Visitors have boat into the marina after taking another route to the lake, but even then Hinrichs can offer only grocery supplies and bait.

"I have no fuel, sewer or water," he said Thursday. "My whole campground is shut down."

Normally, the Fourth of July weekend would be the peak of his business season. This year he would be happy to get 50 percent of what's normal. And he's worried that the water won't drop until late August, about the same time his business drops off following the celebration of Labor Day weekend.

Daggett said the Corps is at the mercy of what nature dishes out. If runoff from the mountains is curtailed and rainfall is localized or minimal, the lake could drop sooner. If not, the lake could stay high into August.

"It's a day-to-day operation," he said. "And if we get some big rainfalls, it will be adjusted."

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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