From northwest Minnesota to southeast, lakes, rivers and even the ground can't take on much more water, leading to worries this summer about effects next spring.
There's been so much rain and snowmelt that even the evaporating White Bear Lake is on the rise, climbing more than a foot from its all-time low, set last November. That has lifted boats above weeds, reduced broken boat propellers and increased boat slip rentals by about 25 percent this year, said Jason Brown, owner of White Bear Boat Works.
"I'd like it to rain every night, and be nice on weekends," he said.
But White Bear is the exception. Most rivers and lakes across the state are brimming; many rivers are flowing at several times their normal volume for late July.
All this means that water bodies could remain too full to store rain and snowmelt through the coming fall and winter, possibly setting up another round of serious spring flooding.
"If we have average rain for fall, that would be very helpful. But it wouldn't get us out of the woods," said Rick West, county engineer in Otter Tail County, where overflowing lakes have been damaging homes and roads since last year. "On the other hand, if we have another wet fall, we're going to be in trouble."
At Fargo-Moorhead, the Red River has remained above flood stage for all but two days since March, likely a record, said Greg Gust, hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks. Along the state's opposite border, the St. Croix River at Prescott was flowing 56 percent higher than normal for this time of year, while the Mississippi River at Anoka was carrying four times its long-term average volume.
The outlet from Lac qui Parle into the Minnesota River near Watson was carrying nearly seven times its normal flow Thursday. "How long it's going to take to drain off, I have no idea," said Ferris Chamberlin, chief of water management for the St. Paul District of the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls Lac qui Parle and other reservoirs and dams. "Every time we get a start on it, we get more rain."
On Minnehaha Creek, managers opened the dam at the head of the creek, at Lake Minnetonka's Grays Bay, in late March, about a month earlier than usual, to reduce the lake level, said Minnehaha Creek Watershed District spokeswoman Telly Mamayek. But rainfall since April 1 has run nearly 4 inches above normal; July's alone was 1.7 inches above normal through Wednesday. Heavy flow into the creek has made kayakers happy but done little to lower the lake.
"We need dry, hot days, and a prolonged period of that," Mamayek said.
At Fort Snelling State Park, Pike Island remains closed because of the effects of spring flooding, as does the park's boat dock on Picnic Island. Many Minnesota farmers have been unable to plant in some fields; ducks swim where corn should be growing.
But at White Bear ...
Around White Bear Lake, however, last winter's heavy snow and the above-normal rainfall since then have lifted spirits as well as boats.
"Everybody's happy the water's up," said Justin Anderson, a lifeguard at Mahtomedi Beach on the lake's east side. "People who were complaining [last year] that they could touch bottom now can't touch."
Brown said he recently had a call from someone who wanted his dock raised -- the first such call he's received in five years. The continually rising water will likely make the end of the season easier for boaters, he added. Last year many found that when it was time to take their boats off lifts, there wasn't enough water to drop them into to get them to a boat landing. Brown brought many of them off the lake for the season using four-wheelers and innertubes.
Water watchers and longtime residents agree that a White Bear shrinkage and return also happened in the late 1980s, in tandem with a drought followed by a wet period.
The current retreat and delayed recovery can be blamed in large part on the lake's relatively small watershed, said Molly Shodeen, east metro hydrologist for the state Department of Natural Resources. With little surface water running in -- some of last summer's heavy rains missed the lake entirely -- the lake has always been dependent on groundwater for its volume. But while the east metro endured a small-scale drought for many months until the middle of last summer, that pattern probably reversed, with the lake leaking back into underground aquifers, Shodeen said.
That dynamic is currently part of a U. S. Geological Survey study to determine, among other things, whether local cities' increasing use of groundwater or other diversions might have contributed to White Bear's recent decline. USGS hydrologist Perry Jones noted that the retreat, which began in about 2005, didn't parallel weather conditions as closely as that of the late 1980s.
In any case, the revival of White Bear Lake, where the main Ramsey County beach has been closed to swimmers for several years, will likely be driven by weather most of its neighbors don't want.
"If we continue to have the rain we're having, it's a positive [for White Bear]," Brown said.
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646