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Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny ABOVE: Minnesota Department of Transportation workers Tim Sandry and Jim Schimtz took turns at the wheel Thursday as they put their snow plow to work clearing tree limbs and other debris washed by floodwaters onto U.S. Highway 212 south of Montevideo. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

2nd Minn. River crest remains a quiet one; weekend storms may prove problematic

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2nd Minn. River crest remains a quiet one; weekend storms may prove problematic
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

As faithful as a monk called to prayers, Jim Gilley has made the walk down from his house on the hill to the Smith Addition in Montevideo every day for the last few weeks to watch the waters rise. Thursday he may have seen their peak.


"This year it seems like we're avoiding any serious damage,'' said Gilley, as he stopped to chat.

"Let's just really hope,'' said Montevideo Mayor Debra Lee Fader when she hesitantly expressed the same thought to a reporter later in the day. All eyes remain on the weather and forecasts for thunderstorms this weekend, but the second crests of 2011 on the Minnesota River appear to have been reached without serious damage in either Montevideo or Granite Falls.

The river had risen to 19.86 feet Thursday afternoon in Montevideo, or 5.86 feet above flood stage but 4 feet lower than the record crest of 23.90 recorded on April 6, 1997.

In Montevideo, the sanitary sewer service has been turned off to about two dozens homes and businesses in the Smith Addition. No one has been forced to evacuate. And while U.S. Highway 212 has been closed between Montevideo and Granite Falls, there has not been the need to build a temporary levee atop the highway as was necessary just one year ago.

When the river had crested 14 years ago, more than 400 people were estimated to have been evacuated from more than 125 flooded homes in Montevideo.

Downstream in Granite Falls, about 200 people had been forced to flee their homes. Tribal officials at the Upper Sioux Community estimated that 45 to 50 people on the nearby reservation had also been evacuated.

This year's event is much more of a spectator flood. In Granite Falls, Everett Standfuss and his Boston terrier, Jackson, have been making daily walks to watch the river rise too, just like his counterpart in Montevideo.

He stopped to look at a river that had reached 892.94 feet on Thursday, but was still rising to a projected crest of 893 feet. That's 5 feet above flood stage, but 6.3 feet lower than experienced in 1997.

Flood mitigation is one of the big reasons that the Flood of 2011 is more a spectator event than an adrenalin-filled battle to save homes and lives. Both Granite Falls and Montevideo have removed the majority of the homes and other buildings that were in the greatest danger in 1997, as well as shored up their levees and added pumping stations.

But Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski -- who was among the spectators watching the waters roll through his town on Thursday -- said the other factor is this: At least at this point, the Flood of 2011 is half the Flood of 1997.

The six-feet difference in river elevation between now and what was experienced in 1997 represents roughly one-half the volume of water racing through town, he pointed out. One engineer estimated that the equivalent of 50 Lac qui Parle Lakes worth of water rolled through during the 1997 flood.

Smiglewski and Fader both emphasized that the towns will still have to keep up their guard in the weeks ahead. The river is expected to remain at flood stage for weeks to come, and any major rain event could make possible a third crest at a higher level.

Even just a couple of feet rise in the river's elevation, said Smiglewski, and the spectator sport of river watching would be replaced quickly by a scramble to protect property and lives.

Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335