Path underwater, with "path closed" sign in front

The Flooding of the Saint Paul Riverfront

As our record-setting snows this winter melt into the rivers, we’re seeing flooding happening throughout Minnesota. As of Friday, there were bridge closures in Jordan, Chaska, and St. Peter, as well as many other road closures. In Saint Paul, the low-lying Water Street was flooded early in the season, closing on March 14th. As the river levels rose, the city put more closures into place, including Hidden Falls, Crosby Farm, Shepard Road, and the Sam Morgan bicycle path along the river.

Map showing red lines where roads are closed due to flooding

Map of flood closures as of 3-24-19 10PM, City of Saint Paul (www.stpaul.gov)

 

I’d been happily enjoying bicycling along the river for the past couple weeks, now that the snow and ice chunks had melted enough for my route to be passable. I watched the rising river with a bit of sadness: I’d lose my river route again! But I embraced this opportunity to take photos of the riverfront as the water level increases.

bike path under water, snow on edges, city in distance

March 15th: The ice is almost gone, but leaves the bicycle path a series of big puddles. River level is normal.

 

The first signs are subtle, as the steps at Raspberry Island become submerged, and the water slowly overcomes the boulders and creeps around the trees. “Path closed” signs begin appearing as the city prepares for the inevitable flood. And then, one day, the landing begins to get streaks of water running over it.

Low-lying sidewalk next to river, with streaks of water running across

March 21st: river is just high enough to occasionally leak onto the landing

 

As we approach “major flood stage” (17 feet), the lowest part of the walkway along the river is fully under water.

Path underwater, with "path closed" sign in front

March 25th: the river walkway is now a haven for ducks, who are foraging in the new grassy shoreline

 

Parts of Shepard Road are also beginning to flood, and the road is expected to become impassable within the day. The city’s closures are in place, with car traffic detoured around the area.

road with water partially covering it. traffic light and street sign showing location

March 25th: water encroaching onto Shepard Road at Jackson St.

 

The flooding has created a still surface for the reflection of the log mural at Lower Landing, making ephemeral art.

Logs formed into a sinuous path along wall, with the mural reflected in the flooded street

This would be an excellent location for a permanent reflecting pool, featuring this lovely art wall

 

Flooding in Minnesota is likely to become increasingly common and severe, even outside of the spring melt, as our planet’s climate changes. As described in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, we’ve already seen significant increases in precipitation levels, and they’re projected to increase even more:

Climate change poses several challenges to transportation and storm water systems in the Midwest. Annual precipitation in the Midwest has increased by 5% to 15% from the first half of the last century (1901–1960) compared to present day (1986–2015). Winter and spring precipitation are important to flood risk in the Midwest and are projected to increase by up to 30% by the end of this century. Heavy precipitation events in the Midwest have increased in frequency and intensity since 1901 and are projected to increase through this century.

 

Fench, path, and stairs next to river

March 21st: before the flood, the stairs go down to the walkway

 

river level up to first step of stairway, with railing peeking out

March 25th: steps, path, and fence completely covered in water

"Path closed" sign with water covering stairs behind.

March 25th: these stairs also go directly into the river

flooded road with an arrow "bike/ped" pointing toward it

Don’t go this way, either

"Trail closed" sign blocking path

Trail closure sign at the top of the bike path near Burns Ave

 

The two southerly routes through Saint Paul, along Shepard or via 4th from Wilius to Commercial, are both predicted to be flooded and are currently closed. There is, unfortunately, no easy alternative.

Screenshot of route

Two bicycle routes through Saint Paul, with red X indicating closures (Google Maps)

For my commute, I will likely bike up to the Capital and then along Phelan Blvd, cutting down to Burns via Johnson Pkwy. It’s quite a bit further, and I will miss my river views. If you need routing advice, leave a comment and I can give you some suggestions.

Jenny Werness

About Jenny Werness

Jenny is a carfree, bicycling, tree-loving St. Paul resident, with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Our rapidly changing climate should be of utmost concern to all of us. Board member of streets.mn, 2019-2020; Climate Committee Member; Editorial Council Chair.

11 thoughts on “The Flooding of the Saint Paul Riverfront

  1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    I’m taking Mounds Boulevard to 7th Street right now. I don’t love merging with/out of freeway traffic (61/94/Kellogg/Mounds Blvd) intersection/road but I’m still all about the shortest route possible. Stay safe and dry!

    1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

      Yeah that’s a rough place to go through! Hopefully the water will recede soon.

  2. Josephmck

    That’s funny—I have never liked the art wall as I have driven by it, but it looks great in this picture…and you are right–it needs a reflecting pool!

    1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

      I usually don’t even notice it, because there are so many cars blocking the view. But it was very eye catching this time!

    2. Rob Sebo Lubke

      This is the first image I’ve ever seen of that installation that I actually like. On a daily basis I just think it’s ugly.

        1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

          You’re welcome! Water reflections often make things look better 🙂

    1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

      Mostly! Just some lurking in the usual shadows (especially under bridges)

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