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When is a flood not really a flood?

By Staff | Jul 1, 2018

I can just imagine there was some disappointment when news crews from the Mankato Free Press and KEYC-TV Mankato came to Blue Earth last week to cover the “big flood.”

They had probably received information that the Blue Earth River was at 43 feet and completely out of its banks and spreading for hundreds of feet all around the town. Streets were flooded and so were houses, they had learned. The city even had to bypass the wastewater treatment plant because of all the flood water. Then the County Board declared the whole county in a state of emergency.

No wonder they rushed here with cameras in hand. I can’t blame them. It sounded really bad.

And, in some cases, it was. Especially for homeowners with water in their basements and for farmers with fields under water.

But the truth is, it was not as bad as the news reporters and photographers had probably imagined it was going to be. While it was all true, those news outlets probably had trouble getting pictures of much actual flooding going on.

While all those things listed in the first few paragraphs are true, the town survived again, thank you.

The Blue Earth River did get to 43 feet deep, which is amazing since often in the summer it is barely three feet deep. And it did overflow its banks in many places and spread over a wide area.

But once again, it flooded out over areas which are designed to handle the flooding. And it didn’t flood any houses or other structures.

Those clever folks who first settled here and started building the town of Blue Earth did it right.

Two branches of the Blue Earth River come into town from the south and surround the city, then join up on the north side of the town as the river heads north to Winnebago and eventually Mankato. With a river on both sides of the city, one would certainly think Blue Earth residents would be in danger of being flooded.

But, when the river floods out of its banks, which it does quite often, it floods unoccupied areas. And they were left unoccupied on purpose, unlike other towns which have homes and businesses which were built right on the banks of their river and get flooded nearly every spring.

I have to hand it to those Blue Earthians of 150 years ago. They were pretty darn smart.

So yes, there were some flooded streets. We have a photo of one on the front page this week. But those happen when it rains four inches in an hour and then quickly go away.

And yes, there was an issue at the wastewater treatment plant. But it was not the flooding river that caused it. The river did not go out of its banks and flood the plant. The problem is actually too much rain water getting into the sanitary sewer lines and overwhelming the treatment plant with too much flow.

The storm water seeps into the waste water pipes, instead of being handled by the storm water drains. The city is trying to fix the problem by replacing the storm water lines when they do their street reconstruction projects.

So while the city of Blue Earth had some flooding going on, it was not as bad as those news people probably hoped when they came here to take photos and video. I am sure they wanted dramatic flooding pictures and were hard pressed to find them.

The Free Press photographer had to take the same photo of the flooded road west of the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which we have run many times, including this week on page 16. I wonder if he knows that road floods every year at least once. In fact, it has already flooded once before this year.

I have lived in two other cities which were located on rivers and in both cases the river flooded out blocks of homes and businesses. One was in Mankato back in the late 1960s when I was a college student and helped sand bag North Mankato. And one was Enderlin, North Dakota, in the mid-1970s, when I was a young editor and a homeowner of a house that had a basement full of water.

Those floods were devastating.

Those two town’s flooding problem was solved when the government built large dikes along both sides of the river as it flowed through the town, at a cost of millions of dollars.

That dike building is not necessary here in Blue Earth, thanks to some long-gone city fathers who would not let anyone build in the areas where the Blue Earth River would flood.

All of us who call Blue Earth home now owe them a big thank you for their foresight.