The Twin Cities has closed out its eighth-wettest summer on record, prompting some no-wake rules and high-water warnings on lakes and streams as water enthusiasts head into the last big boating weekend of the year.
High water and more rain in the forecast could slow traffic on some waterways for the Labor Day holiday, at a time when statewide boating-related deaths number 14 so far this year, according to the state Department of Natural Resources — a pace that would result in the most water fatalities since 2005.
“We want people to be able to go out and enjoy themselves, but [put] safety first,” said DNR Lt. Adam Block, who supervises west-metro conservation officers. “We’re just hoping to not add to those numbers this weekend.”
Across Minnesota, law enforcement officers will be out in full force, looking for speeding or intoxicated boaters and other dangers on the water.
While northern and central Minnesota bore the brunt of this summer’s storms, recent rainfall caused the Twin Cities to finish last month with nearly 8 inches of rain, the sixth-wettest August on record, according to the National Weather Service’s Chanhassen office.
The metro area got more than 17 inches of rain in the three months considered meteorological summer, which came to an end Wednesday.
“In July and August the spigot turns off around here, but this year the big difference was this late summer [rainfall],” meteorologist Shawn DeVinny said. “A lot of places are already full of water.”
Another 1 to 2 inches of rain is predicted for Sunday night and Monday, he said.
Already local creeks and rivers have high water levels, prompting the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to warn this week against paddling the creek until the water recedes.
On Lake Minnetonka, experts are watching water rise to its highest point of the year — still slightly below the level at which speed restrictions are considered. And on nearby Lake Independence, high water prompted officials to make the entire lake a slow no-wake zone for the first time ever.
“It’s not coming down,” said Barbara Zadeh of the Lake Independence Citizens Association, adding that the lake is more than 2 feet higher than this time last year. “It’s a lot of rain.”
The lake’s no-wake regulations were changed after 2014’s record-high water levels, allowing for a lake-wide no-wake rule. It means that boaters must drive slowly and skip activities like water skiing and tubing this holiday weekend.
Minnesota, which ranks No. 1 in the country for boat ownership per capita, saw an uptick in boating-related deaths last year after an early ice-out and warm weather — the opposite of 2014’s record-high water that resulted in unprecedented no-wake rules.
Most of the 18 water deaths in 2015 were the result of drownings, and 10 of the victims were men, ages 20 to 60 years old, who weren’t wearing life jackets. Locally and nationally, alcohol remains the top factor in boating fatalities and accidents.
Still, said Stan Linnell, DNR boating and water safety manager, Minnesota remains “the safest state in the nation for boating and fishing.”