Winter flooding continues around Otter Tail County
Record water levels across Otter Tail County are a major cause for concern as winter progresses into spring.
Total precipitation is about 10 inches above normal in the Otter Tail River basin.
While winter flooding may be rare, high lake and river levels and a phenomenon known as frazil ice are alarming residents, primarily in southern Becker and northern Otter Tail counties. Those areas received around 30 inches of rain this summer and fall, turning sloughs into lakes and causing lakes to flood many county roads.
According to WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler, recent flooding that threatened some houses in Fergus Falls is due to high water levels and heavy rain.
"The Otter Tail River is a shallow, fast-flowing river in Otter Tail County, and all that kinetic energy keeps the river from freezing over in many places," he wrote in a recent column. "However, the water temperature hovers near freezing, causing ice jams, and, unfortunately, the problem may last all winter."
"Frazil ice," which is said to be causing problems on the Otter Tail, is slushy-looking pieces in the river. The ice is formed in open stretches when temperatures are below zero, mixed with a high velocity of water that keeps stretches of rivers from freezing over.
Flooding experts say the chunks combine forming a plug in the river. It acts as an ice jam, flooding homes and property. The water pressure will build up behind the jams and often break up the frazil ice, it then usually just finds a new place further downstream to stick together and block the flow again.
With the overwhelming amount of water in the Otter Tail watershed district, leaders from Otter Tail County believe this frazil ice is going to be a problem throughout winter.
Flooding lakes also seem to be causing problems in Otter Tail County. According to a recent article in the Detroit Lakes Tribune, flooding is plaguing the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District near Pelican Rapids and Barnesville.
On Lake Alfred, water is already in one building and is threatening another. Property owners there are asking for an outlet. It's just the latest in a string of landlocked lakes to suffer flooding from steadily rising waters. A series of wetlands in the area, some located on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service property, are also flooding.
The watershed district has been so busy building emergency outlets for landlocked lakes that it has had to put other projects on hold - including efforts to lessen the impact of spring flooding on the Red River south of Fargo-Moorhead. The rising lakes have threatened state highways, county and township roads and private property around the lakes.
Minnesota Department of Transportation raised Highway 10 at Boyer Lake near Lake Park, and nearly had to raise it again before the watershed district installed emergency outlets on Boyer Lake and the nearby LaBelle lakes.