Spring flooding calls for lowered lake levels & volunteer sandbagging

As Minnesota and Wisconsin brace for major flooding along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, many folks in Washington County have noticed that their driveways, roads and fields are already underwater. According to the National Weather Service, the St. Croix River has a 90% chance of reaching Major Flood Stage, which is 689 ft, and a 60-70% of reaching 691 ft. Along the Mississippi River, the chance of reaching major flood stage in St. Paul and Hastings is about 97 percent. In addition, people everywhere in the area should expect to see lowland flooding, ponding, flooded basements, and water backing up into places that don’t normally get wet.

The snow is finally melting, but it’s leaving many yards underwater.

There are a few factors contributing to this wetter-than-normal spring melt. To begin, we had an exceptionally rainy fall, which left the soil wetter than normal when it froze at the beginning of the winter. In addition, there is fairly deep frost – 2 to 4 feet – in most of the region. On top of that, there is still a lot of snow left to melt. The Weather Service estimates that we have the equivalent of 1.5 to 4 inches of water spread over a wide area. In short, there is a lot of water and melting snow with no place to go.

Protecting homes near area lakes

Last week, the Valley Branch Watershed District began to manually lower water levels in Lake Elmo and West Lakeland Township lakes in order to reduce the risk of flooding during and after the spring snowmelt. The district began with Horseshoe Lake, which it is lowering 3 to 5 feet by adjusting the lake’s controlled outlet structure. Over the following month, the district will then lower water levels by 0.5 to 1 feet on Lakes Elmo, DeMontreville, Olson, Jane, and Long (Mahtomedi) as well as in Crombie Pond, Hedges Pond, and Hedges Bog. The drawdown will create extra storage space for the melting snow, which will eventually return the lakes to their normal levels. People should be cautious fishing or snowmobiling on or near these lakes, as there could be thin ice, especially at lake inlets and outlets, due to the drawdowns.

VBWD flooding
Previously, homes in Oakdale and Lake Elmo used to flood during high-water years. Now, Valley Branch Watershed District is able to prevent flooding by lowering lake levels in advance of the spring snow melt.

Washington County and communities prepare for river flooding

Washington County Emergency Services and cities along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers are bracing themselves for flooding. In Stillwater, the city has closed all parking lots east of Water Street, as well as the bike and walking trail. The city will also be constructing a 2000 foot long temporary levee/wall from Nelson St. to Laurel St.  The wall will be built to a 694 ft. elevation.

In Afton, the city’s new levee was built to withstand a major flood event and the city is closing the flood gate opening in the levee at the east end of 33rd Street this week.

Along the Mississippi River in Newport, the city will create temporary barriers to protect sanitary sewers and three lift stations within the flood zone and will supply sandbags to any residents that want to use them to protect their homes.

Other cities, including Bayport, Hastings, Hudson and Prescott are providing sandbags for residents as well. On average, it takes two people about one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, creating a wall one foot high and 20 feet long.

Volunteers needed in multiple communities

Stillwater sandbagging efforts began on Thursday, March 21 and will continue until Tuesday, March 26. All 300 volunteer slots are full.

Volunteers are still needed in the following communities:

  • Bayport: To volunteer contact City Hall at office@ci.bayport.mn.us or 651-275-4404 and provide your name, telephone number, and email address. Please note that your contact info will be shared with local residents in need of assistance.
  • Hudson: Email givehope@unitedwaystcroix.org and provide your name, phone number, and email address.
  • Lake St. Croix Beach: Help fill sandbags at city hall this Saturday, March 23 from 10am-12pm.
  • St Mary’s Point: Help fill sandbags at the Ice Arena on Saturday, March 23 from 8am-noon. Contact City Hall to sign up for a shift: 651-436-1099
  • Prescott: The city will hold an emergency Council Meeting today, Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 5:30 PM to discuss flooding. Volunteers are needed to fill sandbags – see website for more info.
  • Hastings: Volunteers are needed to fill sandbags. Signup online.


To keep up-to-date on volunteer flood response needs in Washington County, follow @WashingtonCoFloodResponse2019 on Facebook or check the Community Thread website.