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Water levels dropping along St. Louis River system

Water levels on the reservoir lakes north of Duluth that feed into the Cloquet and St. Louis rivers are finally starting to drop after last week's record rainfall.

Water levels on the reservoir lakes north of Duluth that feed into the Cloquet and St. Louis rivers are finally starting to drop after last week's record rainfall.

Minnesota Power reported late Monday that the level of Fish, Boulder, Rice and Whiteface lakes dropped Monday and that Island Lake, which had been rising for days even after the rain, finally stabilized and is expected to begin falling soon.

"It looks like we've turned the corner," said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman.

Rutledge said most people expected Island Lake to begin dropping sooner but the amount of water flowing in from points north was still more than could be released by the dam, and the lake continued to rise even days after the rain stopped.

As the reservoirs begin to level off, Minnesota Power can begin to shut gates on the reservoir dams thus slowing the flow down the river system. That's good news for residents downstream, including along the swollen Cloquet River below Island Lake, especially in the Hunter and Bowman Lake areas that have been hard hit by rising water that's flooded homes.


Between 7 and 10 inches of rain fell across much of the region last Tuesday and Wednesday, including most of the St. Louis and Cloquet river watersheds north of Duluth.

The cresting of water levels upstream also is good news for hard-hit areas farther downstream. The Thomson Reservoir also showed a slight decline, the Duluth-based utility reported Monday, after spilling over its banks and causing massive flooding of homes in Thomson.

The torrent of water in the lower St. Louis River also has dropped some. After peaking at 55,000 cubic feet per second at the Fond du Lac Dam, the river's flow has dropped to 37,000 cfs, Rutledge said, which is still well above the river's emergency threshold of 25,000 cfs. The river there on average runs at about 2,000 to 5,000 cfs.

The lakes north of Duluth were made into reservoirs nearly a century ago to store water and regulate the flow along the St. Louis River to create steady hydroelectric power at the Fond du Lac, Thomson, Knife Falls and Scanlon dams downstream. While all of the dams on the system have held, the amount of water gushing through the system caused unparalleled flooding in many areas, from Island Lake to Fond du Lac, for many people who live close to the water.

FEMA arrives, but private property help uncertain

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is touring the Northland starting today to assess damage from last week's torrential rains and floods.

FEMA officials will be in Cook and Crow Wing counties today; in Lake and Aitkin counties Wednesday; St. Louis, Carlton and Pine counties Thursday and the Fond du Lac Reservation on Friday.

Kris Eide, Minnesota director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said federal officials waited until the water had receded and debris cleared away to allow them access to see the full extent of the damage across the region.


In addition to conducting their own tours, FEMA officials will count on the state Emergency Management office to assess the damage for an official federal disaster request to be made by the governor.

The early focus is on federal money to repair damage to public buildings, certain roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure as well as reimburse for debris removal and emergency response costs.

Mayor Don Ness encouraged residents who sustained flood damage to carefully log and photograph it. He said people should work with their insurers first, but even if their policies don't provide coverage, they may be eligible for FEMA aid.

While the process for obtaining aid to repair public infrastructure appears fairly clear, Ness said it's less certain how private property claims will be handled.

"We know we need to be advocates for affected private property owners, but we're not sure exactly what to expect," he said.

Ness acknowledged that any federal aid made available to private property owners will almost certainly fall short of making people whole.

"We'll work to get as much support as possible, but we know there will be a gap between what people lost and what they receive in federal assistance. That's why it's important the community works together to raise funds for people who need more help," he said.

Earlier estimates had placed damage to public infrastructure in Duluth at between $50 million and $80 million, but Ness said that estimate now looks to have been on the conservative side, with true damages of $80 million or higher.


Duluth officials are still working to assess how much damage to private property occurred, with the Red Cross canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door Monday to help document private property damage.

Floodwood area meeting today at 3

State Rep. Carly Melin and Sen. Dave Tomassoni are sponsoring a town hall meeting at 3 p.m. today in the Fair Building on Main Street in Floodwood. The meeting is aimed at offering information to residents of southwestern St. Louis County, including Toivola-Meadowlands, on how to seek flood related assistance and for officials to get a better sense of the damage, especially in rural areas.

"We want township residents and local officials to have a place to come for good solid information so they know the proper steps to take in the flood recovery process" Melin said in a statement.

There was significant flooding in the area along the Floodwood, St. Louis and Whiteface rivers

"There apparently are still some people around Prairie Lake who still can't get in or out of their homes. The water is going down, but it's still a mess," said Jessica Rich, Floodwood city administrator.

All but three Floodwood residents have been able to return to their homes, and two of those homes likely will be condemned, Rich said.

"One woman still had six feet of water in her basement. She thought it would be OK to go home and live on the upper levels, but the house was infested with ants. Biting ants. And she said she wouldn't have her kids stay in there like that," Rich said.


Walker in Superior today

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will travel to Superior this morning to get a first-hand look at the damage left by the rain and floods in Douglas County.

Walker will be joined by Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard, and U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy. The tour will include private homes and conclude at the Salvation Army.

Can't build for a 500-year flood

Some have questioned why so much damage has occurred from the floods spurred by 7-10 inches of rain in 24-hours.

But others, including Duluth Mayor Don Ness, have marveled at how much infrastructure remained intact. At a media briefing Monday, Jim Benning, Duluth's public works director, said there's no way to plan for an event that has a 0.20 percent chance of happening -- the cost would simply be prohibitive.

"The city's storm sewer system as it was previously designed served our community well for 120 years. You can't design for a 500-year flood event," Benning said, noting that even now the city will build as always for a 100-year flood, or a rain event that has about a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

Benning said the city has documented major structural damage to 140 different sites, as well as more than 200 areas of minor damage.


He said that in places, the city may need to make short-term interim fixes before tackling more comprehensive repairs.

Clearing debris from streams

Ness said the city has been working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to remove trees and other obstructions from local waterways and culverts. He noted that a number of trees were swept into Mission Creek.

"We're working to remove those materials so they don't cause problems when we get the next rain event," Ness said.

Crews are doing what they can to make sure that waters will continue to flow freely and not back up if heavy rain strikes again.

Jay Cooke still closed, other parks affected

Severe flood damage to state Highway 210 will keep Jay Cooke State Park closed for the near future, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Monday. Highway 210 provides the only vehicle access to the park and remains impassable due to mudslides and large washed-out sections. Damage to the campground and park buildings was minimal but the park's iconic swinging bridge over the St. Louis River is severely damaged and the park has no water or sewer service.

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