As flood prep nears completion, Minnesota communities wait for rivers to rise

A decorative pillar shows historical flood heights
A historical marker showing the high water mark during the 1965 Mississippi River flooding in Hastings, Minn. is pictured March 20.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

After weeks of forecasts and preparations, it’s go time for flooding in Minnesota.

This week’s record warmth accelerated the snow melt, and rivers and tributaries across much of the state are rising. The St. Croix River is expected to crest next week in Stillwater, Minn. The same is true of the Mississippi River at downtown St. Paul. Other rivers also are on the rise.

Much of the advance work is done, and for communities and residents along the region’s rivers, it’s now a matter of waiting out the high water.

Just a few dozen yards from the banks of the St. Croix River south of Stillwater in Bayport, Minn., are some of the cleanest garages ever. Most of the tuck-under garages have already been emptied by the people who live in the condos directly above them.

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Earlier this week, Harold and Cathy Radke were almost ready for the rising water but had a few more things to move.

“I’ve got way too much stuff, you know,” Harold said.

A condo with a cover on its garage
The garage (right) of a riverside condo in Bayport, Minn., has a special curtain across its opening. The curtain allows floodwater to flow into the garage, but keeps fish and other debris out when the St. Croix River leaves its banks.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Many garages there were blocked with temporary barriers designed to let floodwaters flow in, and keep as much of everything else out as possible.

“We’ve got these curtains that come down, we try to keep the carp and all the other mavericks and other things out of the garage,” Harold said.

“You have to have the garage door up,” Cathy added.

The Radkes are flooding veterans who’ve lived within a stone’s throw of the St. Croix for 30 years. They said one spring the water was so high it was lapping at the landing where a service door from their condo leads to stairs down to the garage floor.

“There’s a lot of new people here that haven’t been through this before, so they get nervous,” Harold said.

The Radkes even have plans to remove their wall-mounted furnace if the floodwaters get higher than anticipated.

“If it comes high enough, I’ll just float it out of here,” Harold said.

A man in a blue shirt points to the wall of a garage
Waterford on the St. Croix Condominium Association President Al Sawczuk points to the side of his garage wall, indicating how high he thinks the water will rise in Bayport, Minn., when the St. Croix River crests.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Waterford on the St. Croix Condominium Association President Al Sawczuk was done clearing his garage.

“We spent the last couple of weeks moving things out in preparation for the upcoming high water,” he said this week.

Now like so many others, he’s waiting to see how high the water will rise this year, and how long the St. Croix will stay in flood stage.

“The unknown is how much rain we get. Because if we get any significant rainfall, that’ll just keep the level of the river high. So it could be two, three, four weeks,” he said. “With any luck, it’s two weeks, and then the water recedes and we start cleaning.”

A man stands alongside a temporary berm to hold back floodwaters
Stillwater, Minn. Public Works Director Shawn Sanders, standing alongside the city's flood protection berm on Thursday, said the city "is in a pretty good place" to handle flooding along the St. Croix River thanks to considerable flood preparations.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Also closely watching the weather is Stillwater Public Works Director Shawn Sanders. He said he’s more optimistic about this spring’s flood fight than he was a week ago, when he made the call to increase the height of a nearly half-mile-long berm the city built to keep the St. Croix River from flooding downtown buildings.

“The big thing now, I think, is just what type of precipitation we have over the next few days,” he said, with rain and possibly some snow in the weekend forecast. “The weather is going to turn colder, cooler, so it’s going to help us out even more with the runoff. So overall, right now the city is in a pretty good place.”

Several riverside parking lots and some streets are closed in Stillwater. Downtown businesses are open.

A woman stands alongside a river with a bridge in the background
St. Paul Public Works spokesperson Lisa Hiebert, seen along the Mississippi River beneath the High Bridge in St. Paul on Thursday, says a stretch of Shepard/Warner road near downtown St. Paul will be off-limits starting Sunday evening as river levels rise.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

In St. Paul, where the Mississippi River is expected to reach its flood crest next week, Water Street is closed, and the much busier Shepard/Warner Road along the river near downtown will be off-limits starting Sunday evening.

“If you’re typically using that way to kind of come along the river to come in and out downtown, your best bet is to find alternative routes,” said St. Paul Public Works spokesperson Lisa Hiebert.

She said more closures are possible.

“The best thing is for people to check our flood update page on the city’s website — — that will have all the latest closures for the parks as well as road closures,” she said.

While the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers rise, forecasters are also watching the potential for other rivers to reach major flood stage in the coming days. They include the Minnesota River at Montevideo and Morton, the St. Louis River at Scanlon, near Cloquet, and the Red River at Fargo, which is forecast to keep rising all of next week.

A police chief stands on a city street
On Thursday, Hudson, Wis., Police Chief Geoff Willems echoes flood safety advice his counterparts elsewhere are giving as rivers rise: "Just stay away from it."
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Back closer to the Twin Cities, along the St. Croix, the point person for flooding in Hudson, Wis., is Police Chief Geoff Willems. He echoed flood safety advice his counterparts elsewhere are giving as rivers rise.

“Just stay away from it, right? It might be fun to let your kids go and play in what you think is a puddle, but it might be several feet deep; you just don't know,” he said. “So if you see standing water in areas that don’t normally have standing water, I’d just caution you to stay away from it.”

a man speaks and points up in front of a river
Gov. Tim Walz checks on flood preparations in downtown Hastings, Minn. on Friday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

After checking in on flood preparations along the Mississippi River in Hastings on Friday morning, Gov. Tim Walz urged people to take the threat of floodwaters seriously.

“Even folks who are seasoned on the river, it can become really dangerous fast,” he said. “I can't stress this enough, unfortunately we have this happen — if there are barricades up closing streets, don’t drive around them.”