SPEARFISH — Spearfish Creek is known for its unique way it freezes, from the bottom up.
As the ice forms along the bottom of the creek, the flowing water is pushed up and spills over the banks causing the water to enter the floodplain; and with the recent snap of sub-zero temperatures, those flooded areas freeze into sheets of ice.
“Anytime we have any kind of event where we’ve had excessive rain or excessive cold and it’s pushing up out of the creek, the water’s going to go to those low-lying spots,” explained Pat Rotert, Spearfish director of public safety.
In some areas, such as the Dower’s Hole area at the intersection of Ames Avenue and Rushmore Street, the ice has raised water levels up to the bottom of the crossing bridge, and spilled up onto the rec path creating a major slipping hazard. As far south as Jackson Street, the freezing floodwaters have completely ensconced a portion of the bike path in ice.
“It’s primarily effecting areas of the rec path and we’ve blocked of several areas,” said Brandy Kean, Spearfish Public Works director.
Rotert said it’s not unusual for some areas north of Nash Street up to Exit 10 to overflow with water from the creek and officials have been keeping an eye on the rising water level for the past 10 days.
“It’s not running down streets, it’s not running into houses,” he said.
Kean explained that there’s little danger to homes along the floodplain from the ice, but ground water could cause some wet basements.
“You’re not having water potentially coming up to your house, the water is seeping through the rock bed, so it’s not necessarily the ice on top but it’s the ground water,” she said.
In 2008, Rotert said the area experienced a similar winter weather pattern, which lasted twice as long as the one we’re currently seeing. That cold snap caused the freezing floodplain water to spill out onto Ames Avenue and as far as 3rd Street.
“It was quite a bit worse than what we’re seeing right now and it still wasn’t super catastrophic,” Rotert said.
As the cold weather continues, Spearfish Public Works and Safety Departments will monitor the slippery situation, but with a break from the freezing temperatures expected in the next few days, Rotert said the icing issue should begin to melt away before it reaches that level. Once the ice starts to break apart, city crews will pay special attention to make sure ice flows don’t cause unwanted damming of the creek. Kean reminded residents that sandbags are available form the city upon request if needed.
In the meantime, both Rotert and Kean advise folks to heed the caution signs while enjoying the recreation areas along the creek, and admire the slippery scenery from a safe distance.
“The creek is a relatively solid structure, but when the water pushes out of it like this it creates shelf ice along the edges of the creek,” Rotert said. “So it looks like you can walk up closer to where you can see the flowing water. There’s still water flowing underneath that shelf ice so stay back a safe distance from the creek, don’t walk out onto that ice.”
To request sand bags, or to report an area of the creek overflowing, call the Public Works Department at 642-1333 or the Public Safety department at 642-1305.
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