Southern Minn. watches rising waters, and waitsby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Worthington, Minn. — There's a lot of concern, but so far no major flooding problems or damage along the rising Minnesota River in southern Minnesota. The river is still mainly below flood stage, but ice jams have been a concern.
A new flood forecast out Monday predicts the Minnesota will rise above flood stage later this week, in a stretch running from Montevideo in western Minnesota to the Twin Cities.
The heavy snow cover in western Minnesota has been melting for the last week or so and pushing the river higher. Along with the rising water, the winter ice on the Minnesota and its tributaries has been breaking up and moving downstream. At times the ice jams up to form a temporary dam, holding back water and causing rapid rises in river levels.
Jack McGowan lives near Mankato, close to the Le Sueur River. He saw the Minnesota River tributary jam up with ice floes on Saturday.
"I just happened to go down there at noon to the cabin, and looked down and said, 'Oh, my gosh.' They're 15 inches thick, and 8 by 10 feet, probably," said McGowan. "It's the biggest ice jam I have seen in 25 years. I would say it rose 10 feet in a matter of an hour or so."
McGowan says the water buildup eventually washed the ice jam away and the river level fell.
Several other ice jams formed on the Minnesota River over the weekend and into Monday. One near St. Peter has been holding back water, but so far has not forced any road closures or damage. Another ice jam near Henderson is causing concern, but so far has not forced water levels high enough to cause major flooding.
One of the main areas of worry on the Minnesota River is the city of Montevideo in west central Minnesota. The waters there are expected to reach flood stage by Tuesday evening. By the weekend, the river stage should be just shy of what's considered major flood stage.
Montevideo City Manager Steven Jones is hoping that even at that level, the high water won't cause many problems. Despite the name, major flood stage doesn't automatically mean major headaches for Montevideo.
"Last year is a good example. We were 18.5 feet, which is major flood stage," said Jones. "And for the most part, except for closing a few roads, we were able to basically keep business going."
The weather service is not calling this weekend's predicted high water in Montevideo a flood crest. Officials say it's possible the Minnesota River could go higher later on, as the spring melt continues.
Outside of the Minnesota River Valley, there are other trouble spots in the southern part of the state. The south fork of the Crow River is predicted to reach major flood stage at Delano in the western Twin Cities area later in the week. In St. Paul, the Mississippi is predicted to reach flood stage by Saturday morning.
Rivers are also rising in other parts of the Midwest. In Sioux Falls, S.D., high water is causing problems for the city's wastewater treatment facility.
The city's public works director, Mark Cotter, says floodwater is getting into the city's sewer pipes and the wastewater system can't handle that much water. So Cotter says to reduce the load, raw sewage was released Sunday into the Big Sioux River.
"The release is over, and right now we're certainly hopeful that we do not have to have another release," said Cotter. "The flows are starting to go down in the river."
Cotter says the high water diluted the sewage in the river, and he says downstream tests have not shown any contamination problems.
- All Things Considered, 03/15/2010, 5:48 p.m.