Spring flooding

River levels ready to slowly drop across Minnesota, but major cleanup lies ahead

Flooding across the state is on its way out, the National Weather Service says.

People speak at a press conference near a flooding river.
Water covers much of Harriet Island Riverfront Park in downtown St. Paul, Minn., Sunday, April 23, 2023.
Estelle Timar-Wilcox | MPR News

Updated: 2:55 p.m.

Water levels are cresting across the state, including the Mississippi River in St. Paul, which didn’t reach the top 10 flood levels recorded in the city.

The river crested at 18.24 feet on Wednesday — in major flood stage, though well short of the record level of 26.01 feet set in 1965. It had dropped to 17.65 feet as of Friday morning.

City officials in Delano, Minn., said Friday that the Bridge Avenue bridge across the South Fork Crow River is back open after a lengthy closure due to flooding. The downtown bridge was closed nearly two weeks ago as the river west of the Twin Cities rose to its highest level since 2014, and among the top five crests on record.

The Crow River has since fallen more than two feet. Delano city crews removed part of a temporary floodwall on Friday morning to reopen the bridge to traffic, and the rest of the floodwall will be taken down on Monday.

To the south, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said Friday that State Highway 19 east of Henderson has reopened after a weeklong closure due to flooding along the Minnesota River. The river level at Henderson has dropped nearly two feet since cresting earlier this week.

River levels also are falling along the Mississippi River at Red Wing, Wabasha and Winona; along the St. Croix River at Stillwater; and along the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead.

While floodwaters are receding in many parts of the state, some state, county and local road closures remain in effect. And with rivers still running high, authorities are urging people to use caution if near the water.

‘It’ll still be a while’

St. Paul Public Works Director Sean Kershaw said Thursday that forecasters don't think expected rain will have a major impact on Mississippi River water levels. But he said that a major cleanup is still ahead.

Heavy snow over the winter appears to have brought down trees on the riverbank, adding to debris that has built up since flooding in 2019. Those trees and other debris are now washing downstream.

“There’s a big pile at Raspberry Island, there’s some near Wabasha Street — one of the bridge piers — and so we will have to go in and physically remove that, we can’t just push it downstream,” he said. “So we’ve noticed more of that debris building up, but we haven't yet found any damage.”

Across the state, the National Weather Service says flooding is on its way out.

NWS hydrologist Craig Schmidt said waters will slowly start to recede — in due time thanks to all the snow.

“It’ll still be a while until everything is down low enough to really take our guard down because we'll be running high for a few weeks still. And if we do get any heavy precipitation on top of this, it'll come right back up again,” he said. “But we have seen the peak and things are on their way down.”

That’s thanks, in part, to the drought and flood mitigation efforts.

Soils were able to take in more moisture, and the lakes and rivers were lower than normal. And the last two or three decades meant building new flood walls and moving homes out of areas susceptible to floods.

So what happens until the waters go down?

“The water starts to soak in the fields where it's been flooding and running back into the river system. And things basically start recovering over time,” Schmidt said.

Driving on closed roads is still off limits until they’re inspected for erosion.

In eastern Minnesota, NWS meteorologist Vince Godon said rivers have crested and we can start looking forward to better weather.

“Most locations are on their way down again,” he said. “We're definitely transitioning now more towards spring and summer patterns.”

Back in St. Paul, Shepard and Warner roads along the downtown riverfront, which are major routes to and from downtown for many drivers, will stay closed until the water recedes enough to inspect them. Kershaw said he expects that will take a least a week. He said he expects the roads will require cleanup as well, and that it’s too early to tell what impacts might be waiting under the floodwaters.

“We don’t have any ideas when we are going to reopen those roads yet. Obviously, the water will have to go down below them, and we’ll need to get in there and inspect them, and then we’ll need to go in and use sweepers and clean them up,” he said. “Later next week we should be in minor flood stage, which will be a level that will allow us to go and inspect those.”

Some other streets and parks along the river in St. Paul remain closed; the city is posting updates on its website.

So, are we over the worst of it?

“Yes. Yes, we are,” Schmidt said. “Things are getting better.”

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