This spring has been a roller-coaster of precipitation and river levels. More is in store.
Several recent days of rain – and even a little snow – have sent the St. Croix River rising as Memorial Day weekend arrives. No-wake rules will remain in effect on the lower river for the foreseeable future, according to the National Weather Service forecast and state regulations.
“Slow-No Wake means the operation of a watercraft at the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage and in no case greater than five miles per hour,” said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “The no wake zone protects boaters from flood related hazards such as floating debris and river currents. It also helps minimize damage to shorelines, levees, and islands which are more vulnerable to damage from wakes during high water events.”
The river is currently at over 685′ in Stillwater, two feet above no-wake stage, and expect to climb another half of a foot toward its crest next Tuesday.
That level will be about three feet below the crest in early April that caused Stillwater to build a dike and other flood preparations to occur in communities along the lower river.
Authorities are urging caution, with the National Park Service saying the entire Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway’s water is at “Very High” levels.
“Due to recent rainfall the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers are running high, fast and very cold with floating debris in areas,” the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway alerted visitors. “River users are urged to use caution and check current conditions before venturing out, and to be watchful for downed trees.”
Why all the high water?
Scientists say wet and rainy springs will probably increase in likelihood across the Upper Midwest as the climate changes in the decades ahead. While summer and fall precipitation is not expected to change much, winters and springs should be 10 to 20 percent wetter in the next 50 years, according to the U.S. government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment for the Midwest.
Already, the St. Croix River region receives five to 15 percent more rain than it did 100 years ago, as carbon levels in the atmosphere and global temperature have risen steadily.
More of it will fall in the type of major storms that frequently cause flooding in spring and early summer.
Increased rainfall and more flooding will mean a shorter boating season on the St. Croix. It will also set the stage for worsening algae blooms, change the unique ecosystem, and cause expensive damage to private property and public infrastructure.
As the river rises in a very “new normal” way this week, boaters wait impatiently.
Also this week, Xcel Energy announced its coal-burning power plant on the St. Croix River will close in nine years, to be replaced by solar and wind, and short-term use of nuclear and natural gas.
This decision will lead to real reductions in the emissions of carbon and other pollutants. It is one of many steps needed to keep Earth habitable for our species, and keep the St. Croix healthy, and give future users a chance to enjoy boating before the Fourth of July.