Heavy rain forecast for the weekend threatens to renew flooding troubles along the Canadian border.
The International Lake of the Woods Control Board, which closely monitors border water levels across the region, said Rainy Lake east of International Falls appeared to be close to leveling off Thursday, with the crest expected any day - if conditions remained dry.
But an inch or more rain now is forecast both by the National Weather Service and Environment Canada, with a major weather system forecast to bring strong thunderstorms to the region Friday and Saturday, and another system with more rain expected Sunday. If heavy rain falls as expected, the lake is now forecast to rise more than a foot in the next week.
Rob Ecklund, a Koochiching County commissioner, said all eyes are on the skies and on National Weather Service radar.
Dozens of homes, cabins and resorts along Rainy Lake now are walled off from the lake by sandbag dikes built by the Minnesota National Guard and community volunteers over the past two weeks, Ecklund said. He said most of those dikes have about a foot of leeway now - which may not be enough if the forecast rings true.
“We are pretty much in standby mode now with people monitoring their dikes,” Ecklund said. “We can handle probably several more inches of the lake coming up. But if we get more rain and wind, it’s going to be too much.”
An inch of new rainfall upstream could send Rainy Lake up several more inches in just a few days.
“If the forecasts are accurate, the additional rainfall will result in a swift rise in inflow to rivers and lakes across the basin as conditions are already nearly saturated in many areas,” the Board of Control noted in an emergency update Thursday. “The hydrologic forecast for Rainy Lake has shifted to have a rise of (13-20 inches) over the next seven days based on the assumption of significant rainfall.”
Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods will continue to rise well into July if the weekend rains occur as projected. Rainy Lake’s water level was 1,111.2 feet above sea level on Thursday, about 3½ feet above its target level for this time of year.
Ecklund said the community is weary of all the water and the long period of flood conditions spurred by record June rainfall. That was echoed by some local residents. Laura Besch, an employee at Rainy Lake One Stop bait and gas station east of International Falls along Minnesota Highway 11, said the high water ordeal has lasted too long.
“We’re all kind of sick of volunteering our time and of being worn-out,” Besch said. “We’re still helping, but there comes a time when you have to mow your own yard.”
The National Weather Service in Duluth reported Thursday that International Falls already has seen its wettest June on record - almost 10 inches of rain - with four more days still to go. The city also has seen 18.75 inches of precipitation so far this year, the most at this date for any year on record.
News Tribune staff writer Sam Cook contributed to this story.