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Water levels rise across region

REGIONAL -- As this winter's record-breaking snowfall began to melt and wintry precipitation turned to rain this week, communities all over the region face rising water levels.

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The Little Rock River spills out of its banks and covers the valley floor as seen from the top of the bluff at the Sunrise Prairie Cemetery in rural Nobles County. ( Tim Middagh / The Globe )

REGIONAL - As this winter’s record-breaking snowfall began to melt and wintry precipitation turned to rain this week, communities all over the region face rising water levels.

One significant public safety concern is road flooding, and some counties were hit harder than others. Murray County Chief Deputy and Acting Emergency Management Director Heath Landsman said Thursday that Murray County hadn’t received any reports of road flooding, but that township roads were likely in bad shape. Conversely, Cottonwood County Emergency Management (CCEM) said many roads were flooded throughout the county.

CCEM issued a no-travel advisory Thursday afternoon. Later, Cottonwood County Board Chair Norm Holmen declared an official state of emergency for Cottonwood County.

The Des Moines River and Perkins Creek have high water levels, but were still within their banks on Friday. However, culverts are frozen and ditches are full, Cottonwood County Emergency Manager Paul Johnson said. These conditions only add to rising water levels.

Johnson added that the county has “likely reached the threshold for at-minimum a state disaster.” The state of emergency must be ratified by the board, which will meet Tuesday.

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While Nobles County didn’t issue a no-travel advisory, the individual townships of Worthington, Elk, Little Rock and Lorain did.

Elk Township Chair of the Board of Supervisors Andrew Dierks said some roads were washed out, calling for extra precaution. He noted that it could take a couple weeks for the gravel to be replaced, and in the meantime, washouts will continue to occur.

Nobles County Public Works Director Steve Schnieder said all the county maintenance crews were out Thursday identifying problem areas and beginning to fix them.

There are some recurring flood areas in Nobles County, such as a railroad underpass on Nobles County 6 southwest of Worthington. Schnieder said that area had about two feet of standing water and had been closed.

Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge issued a warning Friday afternoon advising no travel on gravel roads for the next several weeks. He explained that gravel roads are “just getting beat up with people driving over them.”

The temperature is fluctuating such that ruts get formed and then frozen in place, making roads even more impassable. Smoothing out those ruts will be costly to townships and counties.

In addition to city and county roads, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported flooding Thursday on Interstate 90 near Luverne and Adrian; U.S. 75 between Luverne and Pipestone; Minnesota 30 west of Slayton; and U.S. 59 near Worthington.

Businesses are also feeling the effects of the spring thaw. Krista Beerman, owner of The Plaid Moose in Slayton, said her business has experienced some ceiling cave-in in its main room. While The Plaid Moose remains open for business, its dining space is limited until damage can be repaired.

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“This is why we have insurance,” said Beerman, adding that some neighboring businesses are battling leaks and have buckets set up to catch dripping water.

Many factors go into spring flooding.

“Culverts plugged with ice, ditches full of snow and plugged catch basins are the primary causes of the flooding,” Minnesota Department of Transportation Public Affairs Coordinator Rebecca Arndt said.

Another main cause of flooding, said Worthington Director of Public Works Todd Wietzema, is yard waste in storm drains. He asks that as mowing season begins, residents be mindful not to blow grass clippings or leaves into the street. Wietzema invited residents to call Public Works if they notice a storm drain beginning to overflow.

Overall, this week’s water wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been.

“It’s been warm enough long enough,” said Schnieder, noting that some of the initial hazards have began to resolve themselves.

“Everything’s looking reasonably good for (the weather) we’ve had,” he added.

Wietzema added that “we were well prepared for it,” as the city had already opened up all the street drains in anticipation of the rain.

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People are most likely to experience flooding through either sewer backup or ground water seepage - conditions barricades will not alleviate. But just in case of rising water, Nobles County and the city of Worthington have sandbags available if needed.

All city and county officials wanted to remind folks to use caution on the roads.

“People just need to travel slowly,” said Dierks, noting that especially at night, washouts can appear quickly, and drivers need to leave themselves time to react.

Schnieder said to pay attention to posted warnings, drive in the center when there is water over the roadway and - most importantly - slow down.

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