Drone - Hwy. 52

Vehicles drive through a flooded Hwy. 52 just south of Pine Island on Friday.

Back-to-back weeks of heavy rain flooded parts of Southeast Minnesota.

In both cases, strong thunderstorms with heavy rain remained nearly stationary over the area. That's what caused those high rainfall totals.

On June 28, heavy rain produced floods and washed-out roads. The hardest-hit areas included Rochester, where 4.95 inches of rain was recorded. One National Weather Service observer in the area recorded 5.99 inches of rain. Other reports from spotters and automated rain gauges included 8.50 inches south-southwest of Rochester, 7.3 inches near Predmore, 6.3 inches at Wasioja, and 6.24 inches at Byron.

In other words, plenty of rain.

The following week, on July 5, heavy rain struck again. Byron was one of the hardest hit cities this time, with 4.34 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis. An area southeast of Mantorville received 4.23 inches of rain after 5.5 inches fell in the same area a week earlier.

Climate researchers studying the effect greenhouse gasses have on storms have found their models with higher greenhouse gas emissions show more rainfall associated with storms.

However that isn’t the only factor that can lead to more flooding. Cities themselves exacerbate flooding problems. Paved areas lead to less absorbed water and channels run off into creeks and rivers faster. Even cropland has less storage capacity for heavy storm runoff compared to the deep roots of native prairie land.

Is there any hope to reverse that trend?

The Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program aims to restore and preserve 60,000 acres of prairie — about 90 square miles — across 54 counties in western and southern Minnesota.

Minnesota had Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs in 1998 and 2005. However, those programs focused on creating wildlife habitat.

This CREP effort resumed last year targets land that would improve water quality and mitigate runoff. The program focuses on buffer strips along waterways, wetlands and protecting drinking water sources.

In the first year of the new CREP, more than 150 landowners enrolled 5,720 acres at an estimated cost of $49 million.

In Mower County, Steve Garbisch put 75 of cropland acres into CREP. He is the first landowner to enroll in the new program. Garbisch’s CREP land is adjacent to conservation land covering woods and floodplains along Roberts Creek — a tributary to the Cedar River.

James Fett, who helps landowners with CREP and other conservation programs, said the location is a good example of restoring original hydrology and benefiting wildlife.

Anyone interested in enrolling in CREP should contact their soil and water conservation district.

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General Assignment Reporter

John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”