Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Cannon River today and six months ago

A view of the Cannon River from Father Slevin Park, looking toward the former Faribault Woolen Mill factory on the right and Faribault Foods on the left.

SIX MONTHS AGO I would not have been standing on this wedge of park land photographing the rising Cannon River by the Faribault Woolen Mill dam.

Here, by this dam, most locals judge the river level. And Wednesday evening, only the slightest hint of the dam showed beneath the roiling river. I kept a safe distance as I photographed scenes I had shot in September when a flash flood sent the Cannon spilling over its banks.

A statue in Father Slevin Park (I believe she is the Virgin Mary) next to the Cannon River.

Back then, this park, Father Slevin Park, was engulfed in water that had risen all the way to the roadway into the Rice County Fairgrounds and North Alexander Park in Faribault.

Father Slevin Park splits the Cannon. This is the other side of the river, looking toward the fairgrounds. The river was nearly out of its banks Wednesday evening.

The situation was not the crisis of six months ago, not at all. Just being here, beside the river, eased my fears about flooding in my community.

My husband, who travels by the Cannon daily on his way to and from work in nearby Northfield, tells me the river level dropped since I took these photos. That is good news for my town, for residents like me who had wondered and worried as the Cannon and Straight Rivers rose.

The former Faribault Woolen Mill building along the banks of the Cannon River.

A view of the Cannon River and the Faribault Woolen Mill from Father Slevin Park.

CLICK HERE to see images of the Cannon taken during the late September 2010 flash flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As rain and snow fall, the flood threat rises in Minnesota March 22, 2011

The view from my front window at 8 a.m. today as sleet pelted Faribault.

I AWOKE THIS MORNING to a world of gray and white and sleet pelting in sheets against the windows.

So much for spring…

When I plucked the The Faribault Daily News from the front steps, shook off the water droplets soaking the paper’s plastic sleeve, removed and opened the paper, I read this headline: STILL RISING—National Weather Service declares flood warning for Rice County as Straight River closes in on 10 feet.

And so the spring flood season has begun here in Minnesota with road closures in the Henderson area southwest of the Twin Cities, between Windom and Fulda in southwestern Minnesota and probably other places of which I am unaware.

Here in Faribault, officials are keeping a close eye on the rising Straight and Cannon Rivers. Sandbags are filled and plans are in place to put them in place should the need arise. Of major concern is the riverside wastewater treatment plant which was flooded during a flash flood last September. During that flood six months ago, many homes and some businesses were inundated with floodwaters. A local riverside park, which often floods in the spring, was also under feet of water.

Upon checking the National Weather Service Twin Cities, MN., website map, I see most of the southern half of Minnesota falls under a flood warning.

For the north, winter storm and blizzard warnings have been issued. The last I heard, several inches of snow are expected to fall in my area sometime today and/or into tomorrow.

A car passes by my home at 8 a.m. as heavy sleet fell. Sleet also pelted Faribault during the night.

Rain continues to fall here as we approach the noon hour with temperatures hovering several degrees above freezing.

Personally, I’ve been affected by this wet weather with some minor water seeping into a corner of the basement—enough to soak up, move belongings and turn on the fans. It’s a hassle, but certainly nothing compared to the issues some folks will face as the snow and rain fall and the rivers rise.

PLEASE SUBMIT a comment with any information you have about rising rivers/creeks/streams and/or flooding in your area of Minnesota. I would like to share your stories with Minnesota Prairie Roots readers.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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