Water levels creeping higher: Dayton declares state of emergency for Beltrami, other counties; some Bemidji-area lakes at highest levels in a decade, DNR says
BEMIDJI -- Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency for Beltrami County and 34 other Minnesota counties Thursday in response to flooding caused by extreme rainfall, including sending 100 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard to bordering Koochiching County.
Although the worst of the flooding has so far been localized in areas northeast and far south of Beltrami County, extremely high water levels pose a threat to local property as well.
Chris Muller, Beltrami County emergency manager, reported "considerable" flooding in the area of Waskish immediately east of Upper Red Lake, where the Tamarac River was 5 feet above normal.
"There are houses that are threatened, especially if we get any more precipitation," Muller said. "There's a number of seasonal properties that are close to taking on water."
However, Muller said the water level had receded eight inches by late Thursday morning and there were no sandbagging efforts going on in the Waskish area. The county is still wary of damage to homes on the shores of Upper Red Lake, he said.
"With the lake level being so high, if we get a strong wind out of the west it's going erode a lot of the shoreline... and probably do damage to docks and boat lifts," he said.
The National Weather Service forecast heavy rains for Bemidji on Thursday afternoon and night with possible rainfall totals of .25 to .5 inches. NWS also predicted a chance of daily thunderstorms through Monday.
Dan Thule, area hydrologist for the the Department of Natural Resources, said some lakes near Bemidji were at their highest level in 10 years. Lake Bemidji was four-tenths of a foot above normal and Wolf Lake was seven-tenths of a foot above, he said.
"Once the rainfall that has occurred moves through the system of lakes and rivers, they would start to go down," he said. "If we get additional rain, of course, then they could maintain for a longer period or even go up if we get some heavy rain... it's very dependent on the weather we get, and the amount of rainfall."
Beltrami County officials are asking boaters to consider 300 feet from shore as a voluntary no-wash, no-wake zone, in part, to "prevent fragile shoreline from being eroded by the large waves that are caused by a boat when it is passing under power." Also, with water levels high, officials said reed beds used by loons and other waterfowl are now submerged or close to being submerged and can be upset by large waves from passing watercraft.
Itasca County has declared a no-wake zone, and the DNR has sent out advisories that other counties and communities may implant their own no-wake regulations because of high water levels. Cass and Crow Wing officials also sent advisories Thursday that residents in their counties were dealing with flooding.
In addition to overland flooding, there's also the risk of rain saturating the ground and leaking into basements. Joel and Lin Ward live on the banks of the Schoolcraft River between the Mississippi and Carr Lake, and they're putting in a second sump pump to deal with the quarter-inch puddle of water that's flooded much of their basement. Joel Ward said the Schoolcraft is so high it's nearing the top of a culvert opening that normally would allow canoeists to pass through.
"To our recollection, it's the highest water level that we've seen in the 26 years we've lived here," he said.
Beltrami County residents wishing to buy sandbags can do so for 25 cents a bag by calling the Bemidji City Garage at 333-1850 during normal business hours. Residents are responsible for filling and placing bags. Emergency calls regarding flooding should go to the Law Enforcement Center at 333-9111 or 911, but non-emergency calls can go to Muller at 333-8386.