As what is being described as an “ideal” start to the spring melt continues, the Red Lake River in Crookston has begun its annual rise, and preparations continue to take place in advance of an upcoming week that hydrologists at the National Weather Service say will be especially key, as river levels in Crookston throughout the Red River Basin rise significantly.
A daily pattern that has featured daytime high temperatures sufficient to spur consistent melting has mostly been followed by nighttime low temperatures cold enough to allow for a re-freeze. But this weekend, daytime highs are expected to reach the 50s, and nighttime lows might not drop below freezing When the snow continues to melt overnight, that’s when runoff increases and river levels tend to rise rapidly. In addition, there’s a chance of rain this weekend.
Crookston’s certified levee system protects the community from a Red Lake River crest of 31 feet, but there are still some vulnerable spots, such as the area of Riverside Avenue. Wednesday, a contingent of University of Minnesota Crookston students, supervised by Public Works Director Pat Kelly, built a sandbag wall along the lowest portions of the old dike and wooden flood wall that run along the street. Kelly said the plan was to place 5,000 to 7,000 sandbags in that area. The bags were filled by a Sentence to Service crew made up of people incarcerated at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston.
At press time Thursday, the Red Lake River in Crookston was approaching a depth of 9 feet, with very little ice break-up apparent. The river channel snakes its way through town with lots of oxbows and sharp bends, and ice jams are always a concern.
According to the latest NWS flood outlook, from April 8-22, there’s a 10 to 25 percent chance the river in Crookston will top 27.5 feet. From April 8-15, there’s a 25 to 50 percent chance the river will exceed a level of 25 feet.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners this week officially declared a flood emergency. By approving the resolution now, as the flood threat ramps up county officials will be able to access services and resources they may need. At the county level, while officials keep a close on various river levels, the threat of overland flooding, especially this spring, is likely a bigger concern. The Crookston City Council might consider approving a similar flood emergency declaration when they meet April 8.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Fire Chief/Emergency Manager Tim Froeber continue to meet their staffs to make sure everyone is on the same page, and Blake Carlson from Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates, who’s an expert on drainage, soil moisture and runoff, continues to provide his input.
Froeber has met with his Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members and his ward captains, and Parks & Recreation staff are preparing Central Park for the likelihood that it will be inundated by river water. They’ve removed electrical panels in the campground area and disc-golf cages in the park’s lower areas. Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier reports that the CPD is preparing for high water as well by inventorying and testing equipment and updating operating procedures during the high-water event.