Major flooding expected as early as next week

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There are few happy challenges when it comes to preparing for floods, but the city of Stillwater, Minn., has one of them: too many volunteers.

Volunteers filled 60,000 sandbags last week. With sandbagging on the back burner, the city will focus its efforts on constructing a temporary emergency levee that will stretch 2,100 feet.

The St. Croix River, which runs through Stillwater, is expected to be just below flood stage by Monday, but it is unclear when the flooding will reach its crest.

Stillwater police Chief John Gannaway said the city will restart sandbagging next week.

Stillwater is not alone in its efforts, with cities across the state preparing for the rising waters.

Although Sunday marked the first day of spring, flooding concerns began in late January with the release of a National Weather Service report, the Probabilistic Hydrologic Outlook.

The report predicted high levels of widespread flooding, the result of a high level of precipitation going into winter, as well as a large snowfall.

Flooding is expected downriver from the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul. The University is unlikely to be directly affected.

“While we interface with the river, we aren’t really down there,” said Brad Hoff, chief administrative officer for Facilities Management, said.

The building nearest to the river is the boathouse on the Minneapolis campus, which sits on the river flats. But Hoff said the only buildings that could be impacted are the Southeast Steam Plant and the Andersen Library, and “It would take a monumental amount of water for those two facilities to be impacted.”

Neighboring cities will not be as lucky as the University. South St. Paul has been working with small groups of volunteers to fill 10,000 bags, which will be used around manhole covers and low-lying areas to guard against overflow.

The sandbags will also be used around levees to protect against water coming through cracks or bubbling up from the ground or levee slope.

South St. Paul engineer John Sachi said that this year’s preparations have been more intense than previous ones.

“We don’t worry, we prepare,” Sachi said.

He has been in meetings for the past four weeks looking at actions plans and dealing with the “what ifs” associated with flooding.

In St. Paul, the Mississippi River is predicted to reach flood stage, 14 feet, on Friday. By Monday the river is expected to reach major flood stage at more than 20 feet.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman declared a state of emergency last week to begin preparations for flood protection. Portions of roadways in St. Paul were shut down Monday for the construction of a levee.

The highest recorded flood level in St. Paul was reached in 1965, when water crested at 26.4 feet on April 16. The Weather Service predicts a 48 percent chance that waters could reach that level.