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Mississippi River Flooding to Impact Communities, Barge Operations

High water will continue to impact communities and barge operations along the upper Mississippi River into early July as more rain moves into the area.

Low-lying areas not protected by levees, such as farmland, homes, businesses and some roadways, are being inundated as river levels surpass flood stage.

Excessive rainfall, in some cases near a foot over the past month, has pushed the upper Mississippi River past flood stage from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Iowa, Illinois and northern Missouri.

At Minneapolis, rainfall to date (nearly 11 inches) for June was close to 90 percent of its average rainfall for the summer season June 1 to August 31.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton declared a State of Emergency for 35 of the state's 87 counties last week do to the magnitude of anticipated flooding, according to the Associated Press. Gov. Dayton is seeking federal flood assistance for Minnesota.

According to Kathryn Sarnecki, vice president of redevelopment of harbor operations at the St. Paul Port Authority, "High water is topping docks, flooding access roads and preventing operations at two of our facilities this week."

"As of Thursday, the Red Rock barge terminal of the St. Paul Port Authority was still operating."

It will be days and weeks in some cases before upper Mississippi River levels drop below flood stage.

National Weather Service hydrologists are forecasting a crest near 21 feet at St. Paul, Minnesota, late this week, but it will not be until early July before levels drop below flood stage.

"While water levels receding to 17 feet at St. Paul [flood stage] will allow more normal operations, even a drop of a couple of feet from current levels will help a great deal," Sarnecki said.

Sarnecki stated that the barges were being temporarily parked in low flow areas, such as Pigs Eye Lake.

Once the river drops below levels where equipment can operate and personnel can get to the equipment, the barges will be moved into the docks and unloaded.

Approximately 10 million tons of materials ranging from grain and fertilizer to concrete and recycling materials pass through the St. Paul Port Authority annually.

According to AccuWeather Long Range Expert Paul Pastelok, "Additional rain is forecast to fall over the North Central states into early next week and is likely to be topped off by a one or more rounds of severe thunderstorms."

How the additional rain is distributed over the region will determine impact on the large rivers, such as the upper part of the Mississippi in the days ahead. A few inches of additional rainfall over a few days could be enough to slow the forecast crest and recession of upper Mississippi River levels.

Excessive rainfall at the local level is a given in this pattern, which is likely to cause new incidents of flash, urban and small stream flooding.

Mississippi River levels will continue to rise into early July farther downstream at Quincy, Illinois, and eventually St. Louis, but lock and dam operations will mitigate these levels.

No significant flooding and direct impact to barge traffic is expected from St. Louis on south at this time. However, if rounds of heavy rainfall continue over the North Central states and were to expand farther east over the Midwest and farther south along the Mississippi, the situation could change in the weeks ahead.

As long as there is enough separation between individual complexes of thunderstorms farther east over the Midwest, water levels on the major rivers, such as the Ohio and lower Mississippi, should remain fairly stable or within the operating range of most ports.