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Flooding Closes St. Croix River
By Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
April 30, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of The Floods of 2001.
Click for audio RealAudio

The dam on the St. Croix in St. Croix Falls has been in operation since 1908. While nobody's worried now, everyone's been watching it in recent days.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
On the Saint Croix River, officials are closely monitoring the dikes in Afton where high winds brought high waves, threatening the city's flood protection. Residents of the city of Stillwater saw the Saint Croix crest Friday at its highest level since the record flood of 1965. The National Park Service closed the entire St Croix Scenic Riverway to all boat traffic because of high water levels and floating debris.

THE ST. CROIX RIVER stretches 192 miles from Solon Springs, Wisconsin, to Prescott, Wisconsin, where it flows into the Mississippi River below St. Paul. The National Park Service's Scenic Riverway Information Center in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, sits on the banks directly across from Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Though there are no natural "falls" here, there's a hydro-electric dam owned and operated by Xcel Energy.

Ranger Jean Schaeppi looks out onto the river from the information center's deck, just a few-hundred yards from the dam. The dam's been in operation since 1908. While nobody's worried now, everyone's been watching it in recent days.

"This was a 60-foot wall when it was originally built, so there's a lot of water being held back here," Schaeppi says. "Luckily, the dam's secure; they have that as a safety measure, and so there are no problems. During the height of the water flow, it was being checked constantly, but there were no problems whatsoever."

The flooded Osceola Landing Park.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
But that doesn't mean to say things are normal. This weekend was the Saint Croix fishing opener, but there were no boats on the river because of a National Park Service order to close it to boating. The volume and speed of the water flows over the dam at historic levels.

The fast current brings dangerous debris and unsafe conditions. River watchers say they've seen whole trees, picnic tables, and even a 500-gallon propane tank floating down the river. The large log boom usually flung across the river to prevent boats from getting close to the dam is neatly stacked on shore.

"We had a lot of buildings under water, both private homes were either going underwater, or sandbagged, so there was concern about wake damage if boats were on the water. Also the sheer volume, nobody had seen this volume of water before, and when the boom here at the dam went out, if a boat, if their motor should die, there's nothing to prevent them going over the dam," Schaeppi says.

The river is also very cold. At below 40 degrees, hypothermia is a major concern if anyone should fall in.

The Saint Croix River Valley is filled with wildlife. Ranger Schaeppi says beavers' and muscrats' homes may have washed away. But nesting birds including trumpeter swans that normally nest in April on floating vegetation, will probably be most adversely affected by all the water.

Normally on the first day of fishing season, the St. Croix would be full of boats. But with the river closed to boat traffic, this view from the National Park Service deck in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin shows the region in a more natural state.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
However, says Schaeppi, the frogs and toads are loving it. It's not only the Saint Croix and it's not only wild animals being affected by the high water. In the western Minneapolis suburb of Delano, the Wright County Humane Society was forced out by rising water levels in a nearby wetland and concerns about an antiquated septic system.

Jane Hopkins, with the Humane Society of Wright County, helped move 10 dogs and about 15 cats and equipment out of the shelter.

"There's probably 20 volunteers who are taking down temporary kennels and moving cat kennels and it's just been a wonderful show of community support as we're going through this kind of emergency situation," she says.

The dogs and cats have all found foster homes where they'll stay until a more permanent situation is found for them.