First the snow, then the rain

Mike Munzenrider An SUV splashed through County Road B in Roseville March 13 as the spring thaw began in earnest, while cities and other entities did what they could to make sure meltwater made its way into the sewer system.

North suburbs switching gears for spring thaw


February was a busy month for the Little Canada Public Works Department.

Public Works Director Bill Dircks said his crew had been out 20 of the month’s 28 days either plowing snow, salting or otherwise keeping the city’s roads passable. 

Then, after one last big snowstorm on March 10, the skies opened up but brought rain, along with above-freezing temperatures.

“Now, we’re quickly switching to a different type of maintenance,” Dircks said, pointing out he and his six employees have turned their attention to clearing catch basins and making sure storm drains are open to accommodate the snow melt and rain.

The seasons seemingly changed so quickly that Ramsey County issued a March 11 warning about an increased risk of flooding this spring, even for homes and apartments that have never experienced it before.

“Emergency Management & Homeland Security encourages homeowners, renters and businesses to review their current insurance policies and consider adding flood coverage,” says the warning, issued a week and change after the snowiest February on record. 

“The time to act is now; there’s a 30-day period before policies go into effect.”


Splash down

In Roseville, Public Works Director Marc Culver is also trying to get a handle on all the city’s newly liquid water by opening catch basins, though he might be faced with an insurmountable task. Roseville has more than 4,000 of the access points to the stormwater system.

“There’s no way we’ll be able to open all of those ourselves, so we’re just really focused to hit the ones in the low areas or where we’ve had issues before,” said Culver.

Though puddles creeping onto the roadway can make for splashy surprises and potential hazards, Culver said they’re less of a priority for city crews than water that poses a threat to buildings.

Potential flooding trouble spots that he said he’s kept an eye on include the Lake Owasso area and the wetlands to the south of the lake. Dircks said there aren’t really any known trouble spots in Little Canada, save for some low points on county roads, which, he noted, aren’t under his jurisdiction.

As for one known flood-prone spot in Roseville, where Fairview Avenue crosses under Highway 36 near Rosedale Center, Culver said it’s of little concern, at least at this time of the year.

“We have a decent storm system there, it’s just too small for the really big rain events,” he said, pointing out snowmelt, even coupled with spring rains, isn’t enough to cause a deluge there.



Not all standing water seen in fields or elsewhere this time of year is necessarily a bad thing, said Beth Carreño, the communications and outreach coordinator for the Rice Creek Watershed District.

The 185-square-mile district includes Mounds View, Arden Hills, New Brighton, Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, as well as parts of Shoreview, Roseville and St. Anthony, stretching all the way to Scandia and White Bear Lake.

“The majority of our public drainage system and waterways have easements and floodplains,” Carreño said in an email. “Floodplains and easements are there for the purpose of holding flood waters. Water spilling into these floodplains and easement areas this time of year means they are ‘doing their jobs.’”

Like cities, she said the watershed district is keeping tabs on potential problem areas, though unlike other public entities, the district doesn’t own the sewer systems, so it alerts cities, the county or landowners about issues that they take care of, with district staff or partners pitching in when necessary.

Carreño pointed out the watershed district does most of its work before there’s water on the ground.

“Our greatest efforts related to flooding actually take place long before flooding begins,” she said. “RCWD works diligently to develop and implement maintenance plans for public drainage systems and ditches; [and] works with cities and partners to develop local water plans that include and prioritize flood control projects,” among other things.


Praying for rain

Both public works directors said residents can help out by clearing catch basins on their blocks of any persistent snow or debris. 

They referenced the Adopt-a-Drain program that’s a year-round effort to keep waterways clean through cleaner drains — more information can be found at Culver said residents can also use Google Maps Street View to pinpoint the exact location of any remaining snow-covered catch basins.

The National Weather Service had issued a flood watch for the metro area that included possible street and small stream flooding, which expired the evening of March 14 as rain exited the forecast.

With the Spring Equinox on March 20, Culver said there’s a bit of a lull in the action as Public Works waits to see if there’ll be any more snow. Then it can start taking the plows off trucks and readying for the next round of action — spring cleanup, street sweeping and out in the distance, tree trimming and the rest.

“Hopefully the weather stays warm,” Culver said, “and any future precipitation comes in the form of rain, and not snow.”


–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. 

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