South Bend, Madelia look for flood study funding

Trey Mewes, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read

Feb. 24—More area communities are seeking state aid for flood control efforts this year.

South Bend Township and Madelia both want state help with flood control-related studies. South Bend officials are looking for $14,000 to recoup costs for a flood study done by Bolton & Menk last year, while Madelia officials seek $105,000 for a similar study to identify floodplain improvements along the Watonwan River.

Both communities have been hit particularly hard by spring flooding in recent years. In South Bend, excess water has pushed into people's yards and even septic tank systems while in Madelia, the cresting Watonwan River has caused damage to roads, properties and a sanitary sewer lift station.

"These smaller communities absolutely cannot afford (this)," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. "They don't know how to budget for these floods every year. They can't budget for it, they can't mitigate, they're just trying to survive every spring."

Rosen brought both requests to a Senate environmental and natural resources committee Tuesday. Earlier this month, she brought a similar request for the city of Waterville before lawmakers.

South Bend Township Supervisor Leroy McClelland told lawmakers increased rainfall has caused more water to flow into South Bend's ponds and waterways in recent years. While the water has naturally dissipated through the ground in the past, sediment buildup has essentially left South Bend's water with nowhere to go but onto other people's yards and over local roads.

"We're in a bowl and the water's hitting a level and the sediment is getting to a level where it's not receding," McClelland said.

South Bend officials requested $14,000 from the Legislature last year for a flood control study but decided to fund a study on their own after lawmakers didn't pass an environmental bill in 2020.

That study found South Bend needs stormwater infrastructure to move excess water elsewhere.

"It has to be piped out because it's just going to keep going up," McClelland said.

Madelia has been hit by floods six times over the past 11 years — 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019. The flooding has damaged city infrastructure, from the aforementioned sanitary sewer lift station to Madelia's electrical system and several community buildings.

Madelia City Administrator Chris Fischer told lawmakers the study would help city and state officials figure out how to tackle Watonwan River flood control projects within city limits and update the area's flood insurance maps.

Madelia and South Bend join Waterville in asking for flood study funding this year. Waterville officials are asking for $500,000 for a study of the Cannon River's dam system to find ways to keep water flowing through the community during floods.

Waterville has experienced historic flooding in recent years, in part due to an increase in the severity of rainstorms and slowly increasing average annual rainfalls. A 2017 Bolton & Menk study on the Cannon River for Waterville shows 14 times between 1923 and 2016 when 4 or more inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period, with nine of those times taking place since 1990. Waterville last flooded in July 2019.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers note those are hardly the only communities in need of flooding help. DFL senators pushed for a statewide package addressing flood control efforts to help similar communities and to prevent the Legislature from getting bogged down in flood-related funding requests.

"Many, many small towns across the entire state are having this issue," said DFL Sen. Chris Eaton, of Brooklyn Center.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, chair of the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said he's interested in several measures to fix flooding and water issues across the state. He noted flooding is affecting communities throughout Minnesota every spring due to increasing rainfalls.

"Wherever the precipitation is the worst it seems in our state is where we're going to have requests coming from," Ingebrigtsen said. "If it isn't the Red River, it's the southern part of the state like it has been now the last couple years."