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The rising Mississippi River has been attracting curious shore walkers. On a field trip with his mom, Jet Hecker, 7, of Bloomington, checks out the backwaters near Chestnut and Spring streets in St. Paul.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Stillwater bridge to stay open

  • March 31, 2011 - 11:05 PM

East metro commuters caught a break Thursday when Minnesota Department of Transportation officials decided not to close the Stillwater Lift Bridge to traffic.

The St. Croix River crested beneath the bridge at midday Thursday, more than 6 inches lower than what had been forecast earlier this week. A crest at the forecast height might have closed the bridge.

Two major river crossings in the southwest metro, on Highways 41 and 101, remain closed.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is forecasting significant snowfall late this weekend for the Minnesota-North Dakota border, where the Red River has only begun to rise to expected near-record levels. The service is not predicting a total in inches, but forecast models indicate that a storm expected to arrive Sunday could carry 0.75 to 1.25 inches of water.

Cities across the region have dodged significant complications from high water, thanks to cool and dry conditions for the past 10 days. But officials warn that with rivers still running high, subsequent crests are likely following more snow or rain. At Fargo-Moorhead, the Red River has about a 40 percent chance of meeting the record level reached in 2009 and a better than 80 percent chance of a crest that would crack the historical top five.

Fargo and Moorhead officials Thursday plan to deliver about 3 million sandbags to flood-prone neighborhoods, but delayed the move until the end of next week because they don't want the sandbags to freeze. The area forecast calls for a low of 15 degrees Monday.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says the city is in a "watch and wait" mode, especially with the weekend storm in the forecast. But he says the city has done everything it can to prepare for flooding.

Across southern Minnesota, 14 small cities were forced by flooding to bypass their sewage treatment plants in the past week as floodwaters overwhelmed local systems, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

That means they are sending untreated sewage into rivers, which is not uncommon during floods.

Though sewage, animal waste and other chemicals are diluted by floodwaters, the PCA continues to warn residents to wear waterproof gloves and boots near floodwater and to wash hands thoroughly before eating after working around floodwaters or flood debris.

Last September, more than two dozen cities, including Fairmont, Blue Earth and Owatonna, diverted sewage around their treatment plants and into water bodies to take pressure off the plants and reduce house flooding.

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