Drying out: A small Wyoming community recalls recent flooding | TSLN.com

Drying out: A small Wyoming community recalls recent flooding

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News

Wyoming's Carrie Basse stayed up until midnight, worrying and watching it rain.

She woke up to forlorn livestock and flooded corrals. The arena, pasture and hay ground were badly submerged. Still in her pajamas, Basse pulled on muck boots and waders and went outside to start problem solving.

"It was 6:22 a.m.," Basse says, "and I looked outside and everything was under several feet of water. It was a whole new world, and suddenly we had oceanfront property."

On May 24, rain coming off Black Mountain swelled up Kirby Creek, flooding the close-knit Wyoming community of Lucerne. The farming and ranching hub lies just north of the Wind River Canyon, where mudslides during the same storm took out railroad tracks and made the highway impassable for days.

Kirby Creek empties into the Big Horn River. Hot Springs County Deputy Daniel Pebbles says the system of culverts was simply overwhelmed.

"They weren't clogged but there was too much water too fast," Pebbles says. "They culverts just couldn't handle it."

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Pebbles is a lifelong resident. He spent the night of heavy rain monitoring conditions and notifying residents to stay alert for flash flooding.

Catch pens up the mountain were quickly drowned.

"I started calling ranchers to warn them about big water," Pebbles says, "there was a lot of water coming down quick. I mean just a bunch."

Roads washed out and fences were swept away.

Authorities set up the county fairgrounds as a destination for evacuating livestock.

Water spared the Lucerne home of Bobbi Zupan, a Thermopolis city police officer and a volunteer with search and rescue. That left her in a good position to help.

"We've got a big stock trailer, you can probably put ten or fifteen horses on it," Zupan says. "I hitched it up and left it with the truck, and let folks know they could take it if they needed to evacuate to the fairgrounds."

Zupan was dispatched up the mountain to help a family. The family was vacationing, and got stranded on the wrong side of a surging culvert.

When an older rancher working by himself needed help with some two-day-old calves, she made her way there. Zupan says the gentleman spent so long wading in cold flood waters taking care of his cattle, he was later hospitalized for possible exposure and exhaustion.

More than a week after the initial deluge, insurance adjusters were visiting to work up claims. Emergency management officials reported no deaths, and no losses of livestock, just personal property, mostly fence, feed, and a household basement here and there.

A lot of standing water has meant getting creative with husbandry and chores

Basse, who owns and operates Basse Performance Horses, found that water troughs make great floating feeders, but they work best when you tie them down.

"We started tying them to the fences," she says. "At first the horses were sort of chasing them around, pushing them along in the water. They were funny to watch."

She has outside mares coming in for breeding, and is using high spots to get it done.

When the storm cleared, all the stock seemed relieved to be fed and petted, including her daughter's 4- H animals, a donkey and two bottle calves, along with her band of mares and her stud.

Days after the flood, Basse's grazing horses were still hunting for grass in the pasture, and a comfortable place to stand. The alfalfa was drying out, but four ton of hay looks ruined. Mosquitoes buzzed on a sunny day, and the property smelled like a swamp.

"It smells of moldy hay and algae in the water," she says. "Every day it's something else."

Basse is grateful that the animals did okay.

Mosquitoes are likely to be an ongoing concern, says Tracy Loughlin of Wyoming Weed and Pest.

"We had some mosquitoes that got away from us," Loughlin says. "There was just too much water too many places too quick."

Loughlin, a member of the local mosquito crew, says they started spraying a few weeks before, using GPS to map properties and getting the jump on overwintering eggs.

Flood waters make for a perfect delivery system for the unborn insects.

"We try to kill the larvae before they become a problem," he says. "Irrigation water helps the mosquito population. This worked a lot like that."

Bill Gordon, coordinator for Hot Springs County Emergency Management, says Spring Creek and Buffalo Creek also overflowed. Gordon says the county is well-prepared because authorities and citizens communicate well and work together.

There's no substitute for knowledge of the area, and just being a friendly face in tough times.

"Deputy Pebbles grew up here and he's got a name for every piece of sagebrush out there," Gordon says. "People like him help us stay ahead of things. We're going moment to moment now. The sun is shining, but one good thunderstorm that decides to wind its way through here could change everything."