River flooding, remember, we’ve been here before

By: 
John Mueller, news@newpraguetimes.com

There used to be a baseball stadium along the Minnesota River in Shakopee, at the north end of the old Holmes Street bridge.

It’s the same bridge where, local legend has it, a man flew a small airplane under the bridge to win the affections of a local young lady. Such a feat today would be considered insanity since the level of the river is much higher than it reportedly was back in those days.

The ballpark is said to have once hosted Babe Ruth during a barnstorming tour back in the 1920s. In the 1950s, when Shakopee hosted the state amateur baseball tournament, an aerial photograph of the ballpark during the championship game showed it drew so many people to the game, fans were allowed to stand on the warning track, on what was normally the playing field, to watch the game. A rope was stretched along the edge of the warning track to keep the overflow crowd off the grass. A negative of that photograph was found in an envelope taped to the back of the photo. The photo was hung on the wall at a nearby liquor store, nearly obscured by a stack of Schmidt Beer 12 packs.

An officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told a young reporter the ballpark used to flood every 10 or more years. By the 1980s, it flooded every few years. In the 1990s, flooding was almost an annual event. Why? With the paving of so much previously undeveloped land in the Minnesota River Basin and the tiling of farmland along the way, more and more water was being channeled into the river. Was this a good idea? The officer wasn’t interested in a discussion on the pros and cons of land use and U.S. farm policy. Just the facts.

In 1997, the same reporter stood on the banks of the Minnesota River at Port Savage and watched the flooded river water glide on by. Barge traffic transporting grain downriver had been suspended because of the high water. The reporter’s host and tour guide said the good news was the flowing floodwaters was a sign the Mississippi River was taking in water from the Minnesota River at its confluence at Pike Island. If the Mississippi stops taking what the Minnesota is sending it, “then we have a big problem,” he said.

The 1997 spring flooding along the upper reaches of the Minnesota River and Red River of the north broke most existing flood records in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) estimate of public infrastructure damage in Minnesota from the flood was approximately $300 million. Before the water receded, 58 of Minnesota's 87 counties were declared federal disaster areas and, according to The American Red Cross, 23,263 families were affected by the massive floods. Total flood damages and associated economic impacts were estimated to be as high as $2 billion.

The ’97 floods came four years after the great floods of 1993. From May through September of 1993, major and/or record flooding occurred across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Fifty flood deaths occurred, and damages approached $15 billion.

As for the 2024 floods, we have seen water along the river, along highways, in cities and rural areas in places it is not supposed to be and fortunately does not visit often. Wednesday evening, June 26, County Road 69 in the northwest corner of Shakopee was closed because of flooding. That section of roadway is the lowest point of the roadway, just below Rahr Malting, is seemingly at the current river level. Only an elevated bike/walking path divides the river from the county road. The county says its has been closed periodically the past few years because high water backed up the city’s storm sewers.

A section of road between St. Peter and Le Sueur was closed for a portion of this past week. Another section of roadway between St. Peter and Mankato was closed and then reopened. These stretches of traffic serve, based on 2022 counts, about 15,000 vehicles a day. That’s 15,000 or so drivers who have to find another way to get where they need to be to deliver products and services, transport themselves or their children to events. As they search for alternative routes, imagine the impact on roadways at levels previously not anticipated.

Here in New Prague, the city’s stormwater management system has done what it is supposed to do.

We may have been inconvenienced by the recent round of flooding, yet so far, we have been lucky.

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