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Groundwater flooding concerns residents of low-lying areas

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LOLO, Mont. - For some Montanans rising water levels come with rising concerns. Groundwater flooding is becoming a problem for area ranchers.

Troy Westre has been raising bison on his Lolo property for more than a decade. This year isn't the first time he's seen his ranch flood, but it's not from rising rivers. It comes from groundwater flooding.

"I was really concerned with all of the snowpack we've had and it getting so high in temperatures. I think if it had stayed at 90 degrees this whole property would have been under water," said Westre. "I don't know if I'm out of the woods yet."

Groundwater flooding happens after heavy rainfall and snowmelt, which parts of western Montana have been seeing this spring. The extra water causes the water table to rise above normal, then water seeps above the ground surface, creating ponding and flooding in low-lying areas. There are three stages of flooding, and the Bitterrot Bison property is currently at stage 2.

If the groundwater on Westre's property continues to rise and flood his grazing pastures he may be forced to move his 200-head herd of bison.

"I'd have to shut down (Highway) 93, put up some emergency fence and just run them across the road, because I can't move them. They're just having calves, and I really don't have nowhere to put 200 bison anyway," said Westre.

With more rain in the forecast the Bitterroot Valley might not have enough time to drain before another round of wet weather hits.

If you're concerned about groundwater flooding on your property Missoula County Public Works has sandbags available to the public for free. They come in 50-count bundles, and you can pick them up at 6089 Training Drive in Missoula.

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