Flood fight complicated by wind-whipped waves
WARROAD — As rain fell intermittently Tuesday, sometimes heavily, a small army of volunteers joined city, state and federal officials in a rushed sandbagging effort to protect this resort city from potential flooding from Lake of the Woods.
A stiff northeast wind, fueling waves from the lake, loomed on their minds, making the battle more precarious.
“It’s been unbelievably, crazy busy,” said Vicki Ingebrigtson, manager of Seven Clans Lake View Restaurant on The Point, as she waited for more sandbags to arrive and bolster the temporary dike protecting the restaurant.
The lake, which is at a higher elevation than it has been in more than a decade, was at about 1,062.8 feet above sea level early Tuesday afternoon, about a foot higher than the normal summertime level.
Forecasters say it could rise another 4 to 6 inches this week, and continue rising at a slower pace next week, according to Warroad Police Chief Wade Steinbring, who also serves as the city’s emergency manager.
“That’s already coming. More rain is forecast,” he said. “The winds are really the wild card.”
Warroad and other areas along Lake of the Woods are being hit by the same wet weather that pushed the Rainy River out of its banks earlier this month, causing the worst flooding International Falls has seen in 85 years.
Temporary dikes along the lakeshore are being raised to an elevation of 1,065 feet.
The lake has reached or approached that level twice in the past 65 years. In 1950, it reached 1,064.56 feet, resulting in widespread damage to portions of the community, located about 170 miles northeast of Grand Forks, N.D.
Although he wasn’t alive then, Steinbring knows the history.
“That time, there was a major storm and the northeast wind pushed water over the dikes,” he said. “Luckily, the wind changed direction.”
Earthen levees were built to 1,065 feet after the most recent flood, in 2002, when the lake reached 1,065.69 feet, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Dual concrete barriers lining the shoreline were put into place Monday. They are being covered with clay and topped with sandbags.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is directing flood protection efforts in Warroad, while the Minnesota Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies are working in town and from the Twin Cities.
“Beyond that, it’s all volunteers,” Steinbring said.
A sandbag-filling operation began at 8 a.m. Tuesday and was expected to run until about 6 p.m., and then resume again today, as volunteers build up dikes along The Point and along the Warroad River. Diking also is expected to be done at the Springsteel Resort and at Warroad Estates.
“It’s a citywide effort and it takes a lot of volunteers,” the police chief said. “The effort has been great. We’ll be going like this for the next two or three days, we hope.
Steinbring and other officials received comforting news Tuesday that the Rainy River may have crested and started to recede.
Still, the lake elevation is likely to remain high for the next month or two, even without a lot more rain, officials said.
“Our worry is that we are going to exhaust our volunteers,” he said. “It could be a problem over in International Falls and it could be here, too, if this drags on for a couple of months.”