Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

dam threatens Bitterroot

teton dam failureI have published 6 articles in the last 3 years about the risk posed downstream from the Painted Rocks dam reservoir. A couple of them were from when I was attempting to work with the Ravalli County Office of Emergency Services.

Bitterroot Bugle previous articles on Painted Rocks

I cannot forget how my meeting with the head and his assistant went. The assistant, by the way, is now the agency chief.


According to your data, a Painted Rocks Dam failure would put a 20-40 foot wall of water through The West Fork, Conner and Darby, and 20 feet through Hamilton.
Do you believe that assesment?

Well, we aren’t engineers, but yes, we believe their analysis.

That would mean perhaps 10,000 people dead?

Yeah, I guess something like that.

Yet you have no warning system and no emergency response plan.

No. That is not a priority to us.

According to their data, Conner COULD have 30 or 40 minutes warning if they installed a $5,600 detection system. But that is not important to them.

I am guessing that, unlike me and 10,000 other people around here, those two guys do not live in the area that would be washed away … and apparently have no friends living in those areas.

The looming failure of California’s Orville Dam brings some current attention to the subject of failures in planning as well as failures in dams.

Dallas Ericson, who is even more of a champion of doing something than I am, is successfully bringing some media attention to one of his major concerns.

From NBC Montana:

For about $11,000, or say a quarter the price of one new sheriff deputy car, they could have warning systems on both dams that threaten a quarter of Ravalli County’s population.

If Emergency Planning was your job, would you make this rather inexpensive investment a priority?

If so, you might want to contact them to help with their inspiration.

Emergency Management … Ph: 406-375-6655
205 Bedford St.
Suite J
Hamilton, MT 59840

Since your county commissioners are directly micro-managing all the departments of Ravalli County, you may wish to help them focus as well.

Commissioners In Office
Ray Hawk … 406-375-6509
Greg Chilcott … 406-375-6502
J.R. Iman … 406-375-6501
Jeff Burrows … 406-375-6503
Doug Schallenberger … 406-375-6510
E-mail links to them are available at the web page above.

Here is their schedule and other contact information in case you want to talk to them in person.

Commissioners Schedule