With folks asking about flooding on the Minnesota River and the flooding the has occurred on nearly every area stream, creek and river, flood forecasts seem to be important to visit about again this week. I was curious how things looked upstream late last week so I took a quick drive up to the Dawson area in Lac qui Parle County around Dawson where the west and east forks of the Lac qui Parle River join and flow toward the Minnesota.
The further west I drove last Thursday the more snow I saw. There was much more snow than bare ground, confirming what we had heard about them having more snow than either Yellow Medicine or Chippewa Counties. And that snow looked deep. Now, just a few days later, much of that snow has turned to huge ponds of water covering fields, gravel roads and surrounding farms. Dawson saw record level flooding this week and the Lac qui Parle River, which last week was sleepy just upstream from the Lac qui Parle dam is now in full flood stage.
The Chippewa River at Benson and near Milan has been at near-record levels as well. And both those rivers will pour into the Minnesota River and make it swell this week and next in Monte and Granite. The National Weather Service (NWS) has predicted what they label as “Minor Flood” stage here in Granite by Thursday and that the river will continue to rise until at least Sunday, when it reaches 892.0 feet. That would make it the 11th highest flood here, just behind the second river crest in 2011 on April 27th of that year.
The NWS forecasts that the river will reach a plateau on the gauge readings for a bit after Sunday before beginning a long slow decline. That forecast can change depending on conditions upstream and, more importantly, the weather. The warm spell on Wednesday will speed up the snowmelt but then temperatures will moderate and cool down at night which always helps slow river flows. And fortunately, there isn’t much, rain in the near-term forecast, which bodes well for river levels this week and next.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep watching and preparing for a possible flood response. Granite is fortunate to have accomplished so much flood mitigation work. One of our goals was to eliminate as much as possible the need to fill hundreds of thousands of sandbags. A flood elevation at the 2001 or worse yet, the 1997 level, would certainly require plenty of sandbags but not nearly the 750,000 we filled in 1997 or the 600,000 we filled in 2001.
If the river stays below the 2011 level, which peaked at 893.55 feet, just above the NWS “Moderate Flood” designation, we should be okay. That year there was water covering much of the alleyway known as Lende Lane, along the river below the foot bridge and there was water up on Minnesota Avenue. The city crew put up barricades and life went on. That kind of flood is much easier to deal with. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Questions about flooding have been a topic of conversation, even several miles away from the river. While sitting with Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes last Friday at the Highway 23 Coalition annual meeting in Rockville it seemed like that’s almost all we talked about. Marshall has had some flood headaches on the much smaller, but much swollen, Redwood River and the city was keeping a close watch on ice conditions and localized flooding.
They’ve done a lot of flood protection work over the years including a by-pass channel and extensive dike building in some areas and it has paid off. Hearing MnDOT Com-missioner Margaret Anderson-Kelliher speak about road funding and the possibilities that a gas tax increase would bring was heartening to the Highway 23 crowd that is working to get much needed expansion and safety improvements between I-90 near Sioux Falls and I-35 near Hinckley.
That provided a nice break from the recent flood conversations. While none of us likes to pay more taxes, a gas tax is really a user fee for the highways and county roads we all drive on. And it takes money to fix these. Diverting money from other state spending is always a possibility but deciding which programs, including schools, health and social programs becomes very contentious. Those programs and spending priorities all have their defenders for good reason and giving up funding won’t come easy, if at all.
Meanwhile our roads keep falling apart and the state’s population, thankfully, keeps growing so the needs are increasing. A steady, reliable source of funding for Minnesota’s roads and bridges is badly needed. Using the state’s shrinking budget surplus isn’t the answer unless there is a guaranteed budget surplus every year for many years into the future. We certainly shouldn’t get fooled into thinking that. Let’s hope the legislature finally does the right thing and increases a stable funding source for Minnesota’s roads and bridges. It would be an investment in our selves and it’s cheaper to do that now than later.
Another highway funding adventure last week happened when we joined several folks to testify for expansion of Highway 212 at the state Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday. The mayors of Carver and Norwood Young America along with county commissioners from Bongards and Glencoe were there with the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Jensen, who is a physician from Chaska. Our testimony about widening those narrow, dangerous two-lane bottlenecks on each side of Cologne was well-received but predictably ran into the questions of funding and more discussion about the proposed gas tax increase.
Carver County has garnered enough federal and state grants and local sales tax receipts to come within $5 Million of the expected $46 Million needed for expanding the two-lane segment east of Cologne to four lanes. They are confidant that MNDOT will supply that remaining amount from leftover funds and work will get underway in 2021. Let’s hope so. Our testimony focused on the funding the $38 Million shortfall in the $53 Million cost of expanding to four lanes the current bottleneck between Norwood Young America and Cologne and constructing an overpass at Bongards, which would replace an intersection that has seen four fatalities since 2009.
It’s hard to say what will happen with the bill but the point was very well taken from those on the committee that this segment of Highway 212 has to be a priority for funding. Afterward, we visited with some of the Senators and staff as well as the folks from Carver and McLeod Counties and predictably, for good reason, the topic changed to flooding.
The Carver city administrator, city engineer and mayor visited Granite a year and a half ago to look at our flood mitigation work and to hear how we did what we did. The Minnesota River flows near their downtown as well and their fast-growing city has flood concerns and wanted to know how things looked upstream. As usual there was plenty to share, whether it was about Highway 212 or the Minnesota River. On either topic, we’re closely connected