Monitoring the meltdown

Redwood River water levels may hit record highs

Photo by Jenny Kirk The Redwood River viewed from Airport Road in Marshall. Near record-high flooding is projected to take place this weekend and early into next week.

Jeff Biever and Brian Rodas, employees at Lyon County Highway Department’s Russell location, were busy Tuesday cleaning up and getting ready for what Mother Nature might hand out next.

While busy with county road maintenance duties, they are also keeping an eye on the Redwood River.

“Hopefully, we’re done with snow removal,” Biever said. “We check our roads every day. (Monday night) about 9:30 p.m., the Sheriff’s Department called and said there was water on the road on County Road 5, north of Minnesota Highway 19. So we ended up putting a barricade up on that one.”

Biever said the slow melt the past week or so has been good. But he’s concerned about the temps rising in a few days.

“It’s just not all broke loose yet,” he said about the Redwood River through Russell. “When we get a couple of 50-degree days, that’s when we’re going to start having problems.”

That rapid melting caused by rising temperatures this weekend looks to push the Redwood River water level to near-record highs, according to the National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“It’s going to get real interesting starting this weekend and into next week,” Hydrologist Mike Gillispie said. “There’s four, five, six and as much as eight inches of water across Lyon County still sitting in the snowpack that hasn’t run off yet. As it melts, all that water is going to run into the river.”

Gillispie said the rapid melt is expected to start on Friday.

“It’s going to be big,” he said. “It’s these kind of flows and levels we haven’t seen for 10-20 years. Right now, we’re forecasting the peak stage there for Marshall at 18 feet. The timing on that would be Tuesday morning, the 26th.”

The current record high for the Redwood River at Marshall is 17.40, which occurred on July 3, 2018. The second recorded high was 17.09 on Sept. 25, 2010. But Gillispie noted that the values are somewhat skewed because the gauge was moved nearly seven years ago.

“We have to remember that the gauge used to be out west of town through 2012,” he said. “It got moved. So the record crest we have — for example the 2010 value where it was 17.09 — we’d have to get to 18.4 to be at that stage when you correlate that to now.”

In terms of record flows, Gillispie said projections look similar to the flooding in 2010 and not quite as high as that in May 1993 (recorded as 17.00 feet).

“The record flow we had was in 1993, with almost 6,400 cubic feet per second,” Gillispie said. “What we’re forecasting now is more along 4,200, which is very close to what we had in 2010, but not quite what we saw in ’93. That was not a good year.”

Taking everything into account, Gillispie said it appears that this week’s flooding potential will technically be close to the record values even though the stage might end up being a new high (because of the moved gauge).”

“The 2010 flood is probably a good frame of reference for people who remember that September flood,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’re looking at in reference to how much flooding and how much water is coming through.”

Gillispie pointed out that flood levels for the Redwood River at Russell looks to be slightly lower than in 2010.

“Russell isn’t a forecast point, but if we get up around that 4,000 cubic feet per second, we’re estimating that it’ll get up to 19.7 feet,” he said. “It’s a lot of water. It’s a little bit less than 2010, when it hit 20.0. But again, it’s right close to that. And we only have data going back 10-15 years.”

Glenn Olson, director of public works in Marshall, is also among countless people who are currently monitoring the river levels.

“We want to make sure we’re not scaring people,” Olson said. “We’re trying to be as proactive, so we’re getting ready for this weekend. We expect, with a much higher temperature than we’ve had and not freezing overnight, we have a potential for increased flooding in localized areas. Right now, the water levels for the river are good, but the projected levels are high. So we’ll be monitoring them and keeping and eye on the dike.”

Olson said the city has two pumps going on South Saratoga Street and work is also being done on the area flooded by Southwest Coaches on the south side of Marshall. The city is working with Minnesota Department of Transportation on snow and ice removal north of U.S. Highway 59 by Marshall Animal Clinic.

There is also work being done to open up some ditches and other potentially problematic areas.

“We have some backups in the county ditch system,” Olson said. “We expect those to get worse before they get better, just because of the melting. So we’re opening those areas up and watching other sites. There’s a big storm pond north of the university where that flows under (Minnesota) Highway 23. That one’s as high as we’ve seen it.”

Olson issues will continue being dealt with as they arise.

“We’re taking calls as we get them and responding to them,” he said.

Olson noted that Marshall would have a real emergency situation if the diversion channel wasn’t in place, courtesy of a 1997 project.

“That diverts water from the river around the west side of town,” Olson said. “It goes back into the river by the (Marshall) Street Department. It’s not flowing much now, but I think we’ll see a substantial change to that over the weekend.”

While only time will tell what will happen, Olson and his crew are ready for anything.

“(Spring flooding) is just one of those things we need to deal with,” he said. “For residents, just make sure your sump pumps are operational.”

Empty sand bags are also available if there is a need for them. They can be picked up at the Street Department at 901 Oak Street.

“Those are available for residents of Marshall to use,” Olson said. “It’s self service, so you fill your own. Look for the sand shed. It looks like a big hoop barn.”

Gillispie said the current flooding projections come in just shy of Marshall’s diversion channel capacity.

“With the flood control system that was put in, we are .70 below the maximum designed capacity of 18.7 feet,” Gillispie said. So it’s not exceeding that.”

While there is nothing really significant being forecast in terms of precipitation over the weekend, Gillispie said the worst case scenario would be if the system stalls out over Lyon County.

“There’s some rain in the area over the weekend, but it looks really light,” he said. “We’re talking less than a quarter inch. So as long as the heavy rains stay down in eastern Nebraska and eastern Kansas, we’ll be OK.”

If the melt goes as expected, Gillispie said everything should be cleared out by the end of next week.

“Then you hope things can dry out before we see any significant rain in April,” he said.


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