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Changing Rain Patterns Force MN Towns to Adapt

River flooding is common on the plains of Minnesota, where many communities are seeing heavier rain and more flood-related issues to prepare for. (Mitch/Adobe Stock)
River flooding is common on the plains of Minnesota, where many communities are seeing heavier rain and more flood-related issues to prepare for. (Mitch/Adobe Stock)
October 9, 2019

ALBERT LEA, Minn. – State climate officials say Minnesota is seeing more rain than it used to, and that's forcing cities to adapt their planning.

According to the Department of Natural Resources' climate office, rainfall events of more than three inches have increased 65% since 2000. Many of those heavier rain events have occurred in southern Minnesota.

Albert Lea Mayor Verne Rasmussen Jr. said they're seeing more frequent bursts of rainfall, adding that the town is especially vulnerable because it's a lake community.

"I always tell people the wonderful thing about Albert Lea is that we have lakes; the bad thing about Albert Lea is that we have lakes," he said, "and so it creates an issue for us because we are lower in areas."

Rasmussen said those low-lying areas make it harder to control flood waters when weather events produce several inches of rain. He said they've added bigger water pumps, and also are working with Minnesota lawmakers to allow the city to invest in flood-mitigation projects outside its city borders.

Rasmussen said one big threat Albert Lea faces is a watershed district upstream from the city. Much of it is outside the city limits, and he said restrictions under state law have made it difficult to implement stormwater management.

"And to do that's almost impossible," he said, "and right now, we can't spend that money to do those types of projects, because we have to spend our money within our own borders."

The city said there isn't a clear path to get approval to spend on these projects. It's working with the state on a grant program that Rasmussen hopes will streamline the process for other flood-prone cities.

Meanwhile, Rochester officials have created their own floodplain maps, instead of relying on Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, to accurately show where the flood risks are.

The DNR rain data is online at dnr.state.mn.us.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN