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Wet Weather In Minnesota Erodes Shorelines And Limits Recreation


Minnesota is known for its water - a lot of it, from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to its more than 10,000 lakes drawing tourists all summer long. But because of this year's exceptionally wet weather, many of those lakes and rivers are just too full. And that water is causing property damage, eroding shorelines and limiting recreation. Kirsti Marohn of Minnesota Public Radio has more.

KIRSTI MAROHN, BYLINE: Pat Held is standing ankle-deep in water on what used to be the beach at his central Minnesota lakefront home, where he's lived for nearly three decades. He says the waters of Lake Shamineau keep rising, and his beach is disappearing.

PAT HELD: See that rock that's sitting right there? That rock was completely out of the water in October, and now it's - there's about six inches of water on the top of it.

MAROHN: Held is relying on a concrete dike and eight sump pumps to keep the lake out of his house. He's spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to prevent serious flooding.

HELD: The fire pit was right there, and you can't see it anymore because it's underwater.

MAROHN: Held was hoping for an extended stretch of hot, dry weather to help evaporate all that water. But instead, he got more rain. Like many Midwestern states, Minnesota is dealing with way too much water. Last winter's heavy snows followed by a persistently rainy spring and summer left rivers and lakes overflowing. State climatologist Pete Boulay says this trend of wetter-than-average weather and no real droughts has stretched for nearly a decade.

PETE BOULAY: With all the rain, all the precipitation we've seen the last 10 years or so, every year, year after year, the lakes just keep getting higher. And that's been a problem for some areas.

MAROHN: Many of the state's reported lake levels are higher this summer. Some were a half a foot or more above average. Water has eroded shorelines and left some lake residents with wet basements and submerged docks. It's led to tighter restrictions on how fast boats can travel so they don't create damaging waves. Greg Bowen has owned Brophy Lake Resort in Douglas County for 11 years. He says he's never seen the water stay so high for so long.

GREG BOWEN: It's eroding our shore, so that's an impact to us, to where I'm going to have to spend, you know, a fair amount of money to re-boulder my shore down here, or I'm going to lose my precious land there that I need for my beach and for my trailers and for everything else. So that's a big impact for us.

MAROHN: And it's not just lakes. Rivers have been high too, including the Mississippi, which starts in north central Minnesota. Flood damage closed Fort Snelling State Park, a popular destination where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet. It likely won't reopen until Labor Day. In southern Minnesota, flash flooding washed out roads and damaged crops. In late June, about 40 cattle were swept downstream after heavy rain caused the Zumbro River to swell.

Canoe and kayak outfitters have had to close or cancel trips because fast currents make the rivers dangerous to paddle. Sydney Specht with Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike Rental says they can't let people go out on the river when it's higher than seven feet.

SYDNEY SPECHT: There's been so many days this summer. With all of the rain that's hit, we have hit eight-plus multiple times. This year, Fourth of July is supposed to be our biggest weekend. But we had high water, and it had canceled us for the entire Fourth of July week.

MAROHN: The high water also closed some public beaches, including four in the city of Minneapolis, because of elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

DEB PILGER: It is unusual for us to have this many beaches closed at one time for kind of a more prolonged period of time.

MAROHN: Deb Pilger is environmental management director for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. She says the unsafe conditions are linked to increased stormwater runoff.

PILGER: A big rain event happens, and it washes everything off the streets, the lawns, the rooftops, the gutters and washes it into these lakes. And we see these elevated bacteria levels.

MAROHN: Officials haven't linked E.coli to any swimmers falling ill, and Pilger says other beaches remain open. Back on Lake Shamineau, Pat Held hopes the water will recede soon. But he says with every wet year, this landlocked lake rises a little higher than the summer before, and he loses a little more shoreline.

HELD: So it keeps going up and up and up every year. I'm paying taxes on land that's underwater right now.

MAROHN: Once the waters finally recede, it will take time to recover from the erosion and other damage. While water levels on some lakes and rivers have started to drop, summer is short up here, and rain-weary Minnesotans are hoping to salvage a few more weeks on their coveted lakes and rivers.

For NPR News, I'm Kirsti Marohn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kristi Marohn