Six of them upstream can hold back 80,000 acre-feet of water from the Red Lake River
Even though a Red Lake River crest during the recent spring melt approached 25 feet and generated a lot of local river-gazing, the fact that a certified levee system protects the bulk of the Crookston community from a crest of up to 31 feet means that spring high-water events, even significant ones like this spring’s, don’t generate the tension and fear that they did before the new levees were constructed.
But there are pockets of the town that remain vulnerable to crests several feet below 31 feet, a fact not lost on Blake Carlson as he detailed for the Crookston City Council Monday evening the key role that several impoundments upstream from Crookston played during the recent spring flood event.
“Most of them filled up and some were overflowing,” said Carlson, a soil moisture and drainage expert with Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates who consults with City leaders during the spring runoff.
Saying it’s “good to be lucky sometimes,” Carlson said that the slow, very gradual spring warm-up that resulted in a slow reduction in the major snowpack may have tried the patience of people who were sick of winter, but it was an absolutely perfect scenario for those in the Red River Basin vulnerable to high water. “As long as (the melt) was, it allowed a lot of water to infiltrate into the ground,” he explained.
There are six impoundment areas that hold back Red Lake River water upstream from town. Four are controlled by the Red Lake Watershed District, Carlson said, and two are controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In all, they have the capacity to hold back 80,000 acre-feet of water. When the Red Lake River and other Red River tributaries are approaching crest events, Carlson explained, gates are closed on the impoundments to hold back water. Once the rivers start dropping and the flood threat recedes, the gates are opened at strategic intervals and the water is slowly released back into the river system over a period of time. Carlson said that as a result the Red Lake River level in Crookston might rise a little bit, but it won’t be significant.
One particular impoundment, the Schirrick Dam on the Black River in Wylie Township of Red Lake County, was widely seen as the impoundment that played the biggest role in preventing the Red Lake River from inundating Crookston’s at-risk areas during the record flood of 1997.
“Schirrick was a big one again this year,” Carlson said.