I guess if you write a column titled River Ramblings, once in a blue moon you need to mention something about the ever-flowing river that inspired the name of this drivel. Well, suffice it to say that there’s rarely, if ever a day, that goes by when we don’t take a good look at the Minnesota River. The only times that doesn’t happen is when we’re out of town.
I’ve written before that we have a complicated relationship with the river in Granite Falls. It has a way of affecting our daily lives in ways that we get so used to that we don’t even notice. Crossing the river is a normal and routine activity every day for folks here and most of the time we don’t really stop to take a good look at the river. However, one quick look these past few weeks has shown the Minnesota to be at a remarkably high level. Normally from Mid-July into the early fall, the river level is low and getting lower. It’s up to minor flood stage in Monte and within four feet of minor flood stage in Granite. The river gauge shows that the river is presently discharging about 5,200 cubic feet per second (cfs) compared to an average discharge of between 700 to 800 cfs for this week in October.
It’s not unusual to get rain in the early part of fall and that can bump the river flow upward. However, that early autumn rain usually comes after a relatively dry late summer. Not so this year with somewhere around 12 inches of rain during August and regular recurring rainfall through September. All that rain eventually runs downstream and finds its way into streams, creeks and rivers, pushing Minnesota River flows upward from the norm, for this time of the year. Once again it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the DNR to undertake the repair and repositioning of boulders in the rapids just below the Highway 212 bridge. That project has been on the drawing board for awhile. Plans were finalized in April of 2016 and construction was planned for last fall but high water conditions prevented that. Now, the same situation is here once again and the project will likely have to be put on hold unless we get a long dry spell. This isn’t the first project to get delayed by high river levels here, nor will it be the last.
A long dry spell is something every farmer in the area would like to see. A three or four week stretch without rain would be a blessing for harvesting the year’s crops and getting field work done. It would also help tamp down the weekly lawn mowing chores something most of us would enjoy too.
Another concern looms out there, too. Given the recent upstream rainfall and the necessary release of additional water from the Lac qui Parle dam, we are likely to see the river flows stay high for a good while yet. If the wet season that we seem to be in continues into this winter, you have to wonder what effect the snow melt runoff next spring will have on river flows. We could be setting up for spring flooding. Let’s hope not. I’d love to see dry winter and declining river levels going into March.
It’s hard to know what to expect from the weather in Minnesota. There are an uncountable number of variables and vagaries involved with weather. To add to the uncertainty, we only have about 150 years of recorded weather observations to draw information from. Before those regular weather observations were recorded there may have been more and wider weather extremes in our area. We don’t know because we don’t have records going back very far. We only have hearsay and stories to go by.
There is some evidence that there was a rainfall event sometime around the 1830s in our area that totaled more than 30 inches. There are stories about three foot deep wooden barrels, left out in the open by early explorers, being nearly filled with rain water during that downpour event. We have to assume that it could happen here again sometime. Hopefully that won’t be the case anytime soon and hopefully we’ll have a long dry spell that enables the river flows to settle downward and allows farmers to get into their fields and get on with the harvest.
This talk of a wet fall and slow harvest had us looking at wet fields on a drive to the Twin Cities last weekend. I haven’t paid attention to recent rainfall amounts beyond our local area so I’m not sure how much rain has fallen to the east of us in eastern Renville County and McLeod County. However, the further east we drove, the wetter the ditches and fields were. There seemed to be some standing water in almost every field by the time we were between east of Bird Island.
Buffalo Creek along Highway 212 near Glencoe and on toward Plato, was far above flood stage and looked to be higher than we’ve ever seen it. Not only was the creek far out of its banks but there was large amounts of water on fields everywhere. There was even water covering driveways that lead into farm sites. The amount of standing water everywhere was amazing. It will be a good long time before some of those crops in that area are harvested.
The folks east of us need a dry fall even more than we do.