Yellowstone National Park Flooding Updates: Some Drinking Water 'Unsafe'

Live Updates
  • Parts of Yellowstone National Park remain closed Wednesday due to damage from flooding throughout the park.
  • All entrances to the park remain closed while officials wait for flood waters to recede and the National Park Service makes efforts to repair roads, park officials said.
  • The Yellowstone River in Billings remains above "Major Flood" levels, with flood waters hitting above record levels early Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
  • More than 10,000 people were ordered to evacuate the park Tuesday. Flood waters have wiped out homes, bridges and roads and left cars stranded.
  • The flooding prompted Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to declare a statewide disaster on Tuesday, and the White House said President Joe Biden was briefed Wednesday on the continuing situation.
  • Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney said the damage to the park is "severe" and that her office in continuing to work with the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.
Yellowstone Flooding
Flooding is seen on June 14, 2022 in Livingston, Montana. William Campbell/Getty Images

Live Updates Have Ended.

Some Drinking Water 'Unsafe'

A water treatment plant in southern Montana was forced to shut down as a result of the recent flooding along the Yellowstone River.

The City of Billings said the plant temporarily shut down Tuesday night after water levels at the plant exceeded 16 feet.

"For the plant to operate effectively, the river needs to be at 15 feet or below," the city said in a Wednesday news release.

The plant has an existing water supply that will last the city at least one day but less than two days, the release added. City officials are urging residents to conserve water as the community waits for water levels to drop, which officials said could begin happening later Wednesday.

Further west in Park County, officials on Tuesday noted "extensive" flooding had "made drinking water unsafe in many areas." The county's Gardiner community was instructed to not drink local water due to unsafe conditions, but that order was replaced by a boil water advisory by Tuesday evening.

In a Tuesday update, the National Park Service said flooding in the park impacted both water and wastewater systems in Canyon Village and Mammoth Hot Springs. Roads, bridges and other existing infrastructure were also damaged, officials said.

Biden Briefed on Flooding

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the flooding in Yellowstone National Park.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden has been briefed on the floods around Yellowstone and the extreme heatwaves throughout the United States.

"Our team is also in contact with the Department of Interior on the horrific and catastrophic floods at Yellowstone National Park," Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. "We are grateful for the brave and swift work of federal and state first responders to help get people in Yellowstone National Park and in surrounding communities to safety."

She added that the administration is aware of the impacts of extreme weather are "intensifying."

"No one is immune from climate change," she said. "That is why President Biden has made tackling climate crisis one of his top priorities."

Yellowstone Relief Efforts
Highway workers build up the shoreline of a washed out bridge along the Yellowstone River Wednesday, June 15, 2022, near Gardiner, Mont. Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Flood is a 'Thousand-Year Event'

The National Park Service said the extreme flooding in Yellowstone National Park could be a "thousand-year event."

"This isn't my words, but I've heard this is a thousand-year event," Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a press call Tuesday, adding that these extreme weather events "seem to be happening more and more frequently."

He said the highest cubic feet per second rating for the Yellowstone River recorded was 31,000 CFS in the 1990s. On Sunday, he said the river was at 51,000 CFS.

Sholly said it will not be easy to rebuild the park once it is re-opened.

"Obviously, things that we're going to need to do to stabilize once the water comes down, assess what the full damage is and the length of that corridor," he said.

High Flood Waters Yellowstone
The Yellowstone River flows through Gardiner, Mont., Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Rockslide Caught on Video

A video clip recorded by a person who was leaving Yellowstone National Park showed debris from a rockslide as it showered down upon a nearby SUV.

The footage was recorded inside a vehicle as it drove behind a red SUV. The SUV was moving slowly along a paved road when its driver suddenly braked as rocks began flying off a hillside along the right side of the road.

The SUV stopped and waited as large rocks bounced around it. Some of the rocks splashed in puddles beside the road; others smashed on the pavement and broke apart, sending debris toward the right side of the vehicle.

Brian Schnee with KSTU-TV shared the video clip Wednesday on Twitter. He credited the video to Anne Leppold, who had shared the clip on Facebook.

Leppold told Schnee the video was recorded near Yellowstone's north entrance.

"Poor SUV, but luckily the people seemed unhurt, just a damaged car," Schnee quoted Leppold as saying.

The video clip spread on social media amid continuing reports of the flooding's impact on Yellowstone. The National Park celebrated its 150th anniversary earlier this spring and was anticipating a busy summer tourism season. Park officials now say they are unsure when the park will reopen to visitors due to the severity of damages to existing infrastructure.

'Yellowstone' Show Partners With Relief Efforts

The Paramount Plus show "Yellowstone" is asking for help with a fundraiser to support current disaster relief and recovery efforts in the National Park.

"Yellowstone National Park is an American treasure and our show's namesake," the show wrote on its official Twitter account.

The show asked fans to join them in donating to the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, "who are currently on the ground providing disaster relief and helping with recovery efforts."

Yellowstone Flooding Roads
Bridge Damaged Yellowstone
Flooding Yellowstone
Road Damage Yellowstone Flooding

Tourism Takes Hit Amid Peak Season

Yellowstone's busiest season is already being disrupted in the wake of significant flooding earlier this week.

The flooding prompted the evacuation of more than 10,000 people, and officials aren't yet sure when it will be safe for visitors to return.

The park temporarily shut all of its entrances as officials worked to assess the situation. Northern sections of the park may remain closed for the rest of this season as a result of the damages to existing infrastructure, officials said on Tuesday.

The latest hit on tourism in the area comes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a park closure for about two months in the spring of 2020. According to the National Park Service's (NPS) visitation estimates, there was a drop of more than 213,000 visitors to Yellowstone in 2020 compared with numbers recorded in 2019.

While visits to the park rebounded last year with an estimated 4.8 million visitors, NPS officials noted the continuing pandemic meant there were about 20 percent fewer hotel rooms available inside the park than before COVID-19, extending the pandemic's impact on local businesses.

The recent flooding set the park's peak tourism season off-kilter. With park officials currently unsure exactly how long sections of the park will remain closed, some businesses that rely on tourism struggled to piece together a plan for the summer.

Justin Ebert, the co-owner of a travel business based in Utah, told Salt Lake City-based radio station KSL that some of his clients have been waiting to take a trip to Yellowstone for two years.

The unknown variables surrounding the park's opening have made last-minute planning necessary and have raised questions about how the rest of the busy park-going season will play out, Ebert said.

Montana Hospital Resumes Operations

A hospital in Montana has reopened after a temporary closure in response to flooding from the Yellowstone River.

Livingston HealthCare said its hospital will "fully resume operations" Wednesday.

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The Urgent Care facility will resume normal business hours, but the Shields Valley Clinic will be closed until Monday, June 20.

Livingston HealthCare closed Monday due to flooding around the main hospital campus. Water flowing over its driveway caused access to the facility to become unsafe, the organization said in a Facebook post. All operations were stopped to ensure safety, including the Urgent Care facility.

"While the flood waters have not reached our building, we believe in the interest of our patients and staff safety—with assessment and direction from the county—we have evacuated our patients," the post reads.

They activated an incident command to track flood activity and be able to respond quickly. Park County, where the hospital is located, was placed under a state of emergency.

Over 80 People Rescued in Montana

Rescue efforts continue Wednesday for visitors stuck in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The Montana National Guard said it has recued 87 people and flown more than 41 hours since June 13 because of the ongoing flooding in South Central Montana.

The Department of Defense Outreach is working with the Montana National Guard to rescue people stuck due to extreme flooding and road closures.

Disaster Declared in Montana

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster on Tuesday in response to the recent flooding that has significantly impacted Yellowstone National Park and many of the areas surrounding it.

The state is also hoping President Joe Biden will declare a disaster in Montana to aid with recovery-related costs.

Residents in the south-central region of Montana "are experiencing severe flooding that is destroying homes, washing away roads and bridges, and leaving Montanans without power and water services," Gianforte said in a Tuesday news release.

The governor said his decision to issue the disaster declaration "will help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible." Gianforte said he was also calling upon state agencies to support impacted residents and asking the federal government to provide assistance.

"In addition to declaring a statewide disaster, we are pursuing an expedited presidential disaster declaration to help cover the costs communities face," Gianforte said.

Disaster declared in Montana
Flooding is seen on June 14, 2022 in Livingston, Montana. William Campbell/Getty Images

Long Closures Likely in Northern Region

It is likely the northern region of Yellowstone will be closed "for a substantial length of time" as areas damaged by recent flooding are fixed, park officials said Tuesday.

Some of the park's infrastructure has been "severely damaged," officials added.

Significant flooding over the last few days wiped out some portions of existing roadways. Park officials said on Tuesday that they conducted assessments of the park by air and found "major damage" to roads between the northern entrance of the park in Gardiner, Montana, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, and by the northeastern entrance of the park in Cooke City, Montana.

"Many sections of road in these areas are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct," the park said.

While officials said the National Park Service intends to work on fixing the damaged roads "as soon as possible," they noted some of the damages were significant enough to make it "probable" that some roads in the northern part of the park will not reopen for the rest of this season.

In addition to anticipated delays in reopening northern parts of Yellowstone, park officials said that all park entrances would be closed through Wednesday "at a minimum." On Tuesday, officials said all entrances would remain closed "temporarily" with no new visitors allowed to enter the park "until conditions improve and park infrastructure is evaluated."

Southern portions of the park were not impacted as significantly, but officials are still assessing the areas to determine when visitors could safely return. The park's southern loop was expected to remain closed at least through June 19.

People who were planning to visit the park in the coming weeks were encouraged to stay apprised of the local weather situation and ongoing impacts of the recent flooding.

Flooding Closes Montana Monument

The Yellowstone River flooding is not only affecting the area inside the National Park, but areas in surrounding states.

The Pompeys Pillar National Monument in southern Montana is under an emergency closure due to the high water levels from the Yellowstone River.

The Bureau of Land Management for Montana and the Dakotas also announced the closure of several other campgrounds and recreational areas due to "recent extreme weather and unprecedented flood levels in the region."

Park Landscape 'Dramatically' Changed

The landscape of Yellowstone National Park has "dramatically" altered as a result of the last few days of flooding, according to Bill Berg, a commissioner in Park County, Montana.

"The landscape literally and figuratively has changed dramatically in the last 36 hours," Berg told the Associated Press.

Over the last couple of days, photos and videos have emerged that show glimpses of the park as floodwater surged over roads traveled frequently in the summer months by tourists. In some areas of the park, the damage caused by this sudden flooding altered roadways to the point where park officials said "substantial time and effort" will be needed to repair them.

In addition to its impact on existing roads, the flooding also knocked out some homes, caused trees to fall and triggered both rockslides and mudslides. During a call with members of the press on Tuesday, park officials said it was thought the flooding could be "a thousand-year event."

As of Wednesday morning, weather experts said the Yellowstone River still topped the Major Flood stage near Billings, Montana. Park officials told reporters on Tuesday that weather predictions signal more flooding could come in the days ahead, according to the AP.

Montana flooding in Livingston
In this aerial view, flooding is seen on June 14, 2022 in Livingston, Montana after the Yellowstone River hit a historic high flow from rain and snow melt from the mountains in and around Yellowstone National Park. William Campbell/Getty Images

River Hits Record Flooding

The Yellowstone River is above the "Major Flood" stage, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

It is unclear exactly how high the river is because the flood waters are impacting the gauge at the highest levels, the NWS station in Billings reported.

The river has reached record levels since 4 p.m. Mountain Time Tuesday and has not yet seen a downturn trend.

As of 7 a.m. ET, the Yellowstone County Emergency Management officer has reported no change in river level since Tuesday evening.

Indiana Family Stranded Near Park

An Indiana family is among those stranded near Yellowstone National Park.

Parker Manning said his family are staying near the park and were hoping to be home to Terre Haute by Monday.

"We're in a pretty good spot," Manning told WRTV. "We are right above the river and probably 75 feet or so but our bank is very stable. I don't really have any concern that we're going to have an issue but it is an issue not knowing what you're going to get out."

He said there are talks that officials will try to evacuate visitors out on an old mountain road, as crews are trying to lay down gravel to make the road passable.

"That might be an option, but that's probably at least Thursday at very soonest," he said.

In addition to the closed roads, Manning said the main water line in the area is compromised and officials are urging people not the drink the water.

Key Attractions Remain Closed

More than 10,000 people were forced to leave Yellowstone National Park Tuesday due to the major flooding.

The flood waters wiped out bridges, roads and swept away employee bunkhouses. Dozens of stranded campers were evacuated, but there are no reports of injuries.

The park could remain closed for as long as a week and northern entrances may not reopen this summer, Superintendent Cam Sholly told the Associated Press.

The closures at the northern part of the park will prevent visitors from seeing attractions including Tower Fall, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley, known for its wildlife such as bears and wolves.

Other key features on the park's southern loop, like Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and viewing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, are likely to be reopened.

This extreme weather has hit the park during its busiest season. More than four million tourists visited the park last summer. June is one of Yellowstone's biggest months.