Rising river becoming a spectacle for residents, media
By Ryan Gueningsman
In what was described as a “pretty eventful week in terms of preparing for river flooding,” city administrator Phil Kern, other city officials, and the city council were made aware of conditions of the Crow River and preparations that are in the works to control its rising waters at a city council meeting Tuesday night.
City staff has been in communication with the US Army Corps of Engineers for possible assistance in Delano should things progress to the level it would be needed. The city council passed two resolutions at the meeting regarding the Corps’ participation on any level in the city.
The city council met once at the end of February to begin looking at the potential for rising river water in the spring months. The city reviewed its flood prevention plan, and officials felt confident they were ready to handle rising water.
“We’ve encountered an up and down road last week,” Kern said. He recapped that heavy rains prompted the National Weather Service to raise expected projections of the Crow River five feet in one day, which led to an emergency city council meeting March 11.
Initially, projections called for the river to rapidly rise to about 20 feet by Monday or Tuesday, which did not happen, Kern said. As of Tuesday night, the river has risen to 15.9 feet. Wednesday morning, the river is at 17.45 feet. To compare, in 2001, water rose to 18.85 feet, and in 1965 to 23.25 feet, according to the Weather Service.
With the river expected to crest at 19.5 feet Friday night into Saturday morning, Kern said the city has experienced these levels before and is prepare to handle it.
“The plan has worked in the past,” he said. At the emergency council meeting March 11, the council enacted the first phase of the plan, and sandbagging took place in the areas of the Xcel Energy building parking lot and also on River Street just north of the newly-construction Highway 12 bridge.
The city is planning to move the sandbags that have been stacked on the east side of River Street across the road to the west side of the street by the river Wednesday afternoon. In 1997 and 2001, this area has needed some reinforcement, and approximately 1,000 sandbags are filled and ready to be moved into position Wednesday afternoon.
“This level of protection gives us some comfort up to the 20-foot level,” Kern said.
A temporary 250-foot long flood protection wall was built by Xcel Energy that will protect property from waters rising up to 22 feet.
It was noted that, earlier in the week, the National Weather Service moved the flood risk down slightly to 19.1 feet and it was projected out further to the weekend.
“The projection has risen throughout the day today,” Kern said Tuesday night. “The one wildcard that did present itself today is the presence of ice jams in the river.”
City officials have driven toward Watertown and noted there are about a dozen places where chunks of ice have been collecting on curves and by fallen trees.
These chunks, once en route down the river, could cause issues when they get to the Bridge Avenue bridge in Delano and strike it or build up around it, pushing water back.
Tuesday night, there was a small compilation of ice on the east side of the bridge and a piece of a tree traveling down the river did strike the bridge, but eventually freed itself and flowed on its way down the river. Wednesday morning, city staff and John Emery of Emery’s Tree Service of Delano removed a tree that was lodged on the east side of the riverbank, south of the bridge.
“There’s still a substantial amount of ice in that direction,” commented council member Brad Hotchkiss.
“That ice build-up all has to work its way through the system,” Kern added. Kern said Mayer has had issues with ice jams, and a jam was also reported Tuesday morning in Rockford.
In Delano, water and ice chunks, are expected to start hitting the bottom of the bridge at about 18 feet.
The river is expected to hit this level early Thursday morning. Kern said the city has backhoes and equipment on reserve in the event is needed to be brought in to break up chunks of ice or other debris to keep water flowing under the bridge.
“We also have prepared further steps of our emergency plan should we see these steps to be necessary,” Kern said. “We intend on monitoring and keeping in touch.”
Kern said a continuation of the city council’s emergency meeting could be called Thursday in the event additional steps need to be taken. The Army Corps of Engineers could also be called in to help with “jersey barriers” in the event additional protection is needed for downtown Delano.
The council approved two resolutions for the Army Corps of Engineers to mobilize in Delano if necessary, contingent upon final approval of the city attorney and the city actually needing to utilize the agency.
Having a prepared document in the event the city or other agencies need to work on private property in the interest of public safety was also discussed.
The council approved moving forward with the construction of a floodwall on River Street across from the Delano Post Office and north to Bridge Avenue, depending on how things look Thursday morning.
It is estimated the wall will take 8 to 10 hours to build. The council gave the go-ahead to city staff to construct it if it looks like conditions will warrant it.
“Every minute counts,” Mayor Joe McDonald said, adding that having to convene a special meeting Thursday morning to approve going ahead with the next phase flood prevention measures would just hold up the process. City staff indicated they will still be in touch with several council members before “pulling the trigger” on that phase.
Council Member Larry Bartels asked if city staff had contacted Wright County about closing down Wright County Road 17 (River Street) if necessary north of the Highway 12 bridge. The county told the city to “do whatever it needs to.”
If implemented, traffic detours would also be necessary.
In the update, Kern noted turnout has been great for people wanting to volunteer, and that as of Tuesday night, the city has more than 100 people on its list to call in the event more volunteer efforts are needed.
The National Weather Service’s projections can be found online at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=mpx&gage=delm5