Minnesota River valley residents prepare for spring floodsby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Granite Falls, Minn. — Residents of the Minnesota River valley in the southwest part of the state are getting ready for another flood this spring.
Right now it looks manageable, but city officials in the area say more snow, heavy rain and a quick melt could push the water far past what's currently forecast.
If walk into Robert Ladner's back yard in Granite Falls, you'll see something he says is a little bit unusual. The Minnesota River is only 100 feet away, and most of the channel is ice free.
"I don't ever remember it being this open," Ladner says.
The river is running about two feet higher than normal, he said, as the strong current is preventing ice from forming, despite below-zero weather. A dam 25 miles upstream is letting more water through than usual for this time of year.
"There's a lot of water moving, which means there's a lot of water upstream," Ladner says. "But it was a wet fall, and there's only so much they can hold back, then they've got to let it go."
Ladner's property will be on the front lines this spring if the water rises higher than expected. A series of wooden stakes with red ribbons on top run through his yard and beyond. They mark the location where a temporary dike will go up this spring if needed.
A few blocks away from the Ladner home, water pours over a dam in downtown Granite Falls. The high flows have helped the city generate more electricity this winter, but they're another sign that the river is primed to flood.
Granite Falls City Manager Bill Lavin said he hopes the current outlook for only moderate flooding comes true.
"If nothing changed from the forecast we know about now, we would be fine," Lavin said.
But Lavin knows how quickly things can get worse.
Back in 1997 a quick melt and heavy rain pushed city and state flood fighters to the limit. They had to scramble to stop the Minnesota from topping the Granite Falls levees.
Since that record flood 14 years ago, Lavin said the city has worked to improve its flood defenses. More than 20 homes have been removed from low lying land. The city's levees have been strengthened and extended.
"The work we've done to date will definitely afford a level of protection that we've not had before," Lavin said.
That's the same sort of message city officials are putting out upstream in Montevideo, which sits at the confluence of the Chippewa and Minnesota Rivers. More than 100 homes have been moved out of the flood plain since the big 1997 flood.
Standing near the site where a new levy is being built, Montevideo City Manager Steven Jones said this spring will be the third year in a row the town has had to deal with high water.
"I think we're certainly going to have one of our worst years," he said. "How bad it gets is still debatable; depends on what the weather does. Last year we had the fourth highest flood of record. We believe we'll get to that again this year."
If the rivers get near last year's level the city can handle that, Jones said, though they may have to sandbag in some areas.
Montevideo business owner Duane Hastad is also keeping an eye on the weather. His nursery and flower shop is located in the flood plain. During the record 1997 flood he had a foot and a half of water in his building.
"We will be buying flood insurance," says Hastad. "You have to have flood insurance at least a month before the water hits your building."
Back in Granite Falls, Robert Ladner stands in his back yard near the Minnesota River. Although the open river and the deep snow look ominous, he won't have to worry about high water this spring.
He and his wife sold this home in a government flood buyout and are in the process of moving out.
"It was a no-brainer for me because we were planning to move anyway," he says.
Ladner is mostly retired and looking to downsize. The house will also be leaving the flood zone one way or another. If no one steps up to buy and relocate it, the city will tear the house down.
- Morning Edition, 02/08/2011, 6:50 a.m.