NEW ULM - New Ulm residents were urged to conserve water on Thursday for the next 24 hours to ease demand on the city's waste water treatment plant.
In response to calls about the potential for residential sewer back-ups due to heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday, New Ulm Public Utilities (NUPU) issued a press release early Thursday afternoon asking residents to limit water use for the next 24 hours.
"Limiting water use will help reduce the flow," the release read. "Please delay activities such as showers, clothes washing and other tasks. Make sure sump pumps route to the street or lawn rather than a floor drain so water will run into the storm sewer rather than the sanitary sewer. This can help prevent sewer back-ups in residential areas."
This photo taken through a squad car window by a member of the New Ulm Police Department shows an area at 5th North and Lee Avenue where standing water was approximately 2 1/2 feet deep on Thursday. Multiple vehicles ignored warnings and drove into the water.
New Ulm Street Department workers use a hydraulic pump, skid steer and hoses to move excessive standing water over the berm on the Minnesota River and into the river near 18th South and Valley streets late Thursday afternoon. The pumping is needed to prevent rain water from entering the storm sewer. The street department started with two pumps; however, water levels came up faster than anticipated and two more pumps were brought to the site. Four pumps should be adequate, according to Curt Curry of the street department.
In the past week, 10 1/2 inches of rain fell in New Ulm, and 12 1/2 inches fell so far in June. The monthly average is 4.8 inches.
Thursday's rainfall as of 7 p.m. was 3.34 inches as measured at the Martin Luther College weather station.
NUPU Energy Services Representative William Swanson said early Thursday afternoon that the city's wastewater treatment plant is nearing maximum capacity and could surpass that point is more rain falls Thursday afternoon and evening.
"Overall, we're doing pretty well," Swanson said. "But there are a number of residences with older pipes that leak into the groundwater, which is not unusual."
Later Thursday afternoon, city crews were pumping standing water over the berm on the Minnesota River near 18th South into the river. These efforts were put in motion to prevent excessive water from entering storm sewers.
Crews started with two pumps, but soon added two more pumps, according to Curt Curry of the New Ulm Street Department.
Four pumps should be adequate even if more rain falls, Curry said.
"I've got four pumps," he said early Thursday evening, "We should be OK."
Meanwhile, New Ulm Police and Fire departments, the Brown County Sheriff's Office and emergency medical services issued a news release Thursday reminding motorists not to drive into or through standing water on roads.
Cottonwood Street was closed west of the Cottonwood River bridge on the southern edge of New Ulm until further notice due to water over the road.
Brown County and City Street department employees were working on multiple streets and roads that were closed or under water due to mud and land slides. "Resources were stretched thin, but roads and streets were handled as quickly as possible," the news release read.
"Multiple people drove around emergency vehicles that were stopped, blocking roads with their emergency lights activated," the release continued. "Workers were often told by drivers that 'they didn't know what to do.'"
Police reminded all motorists that when they see an emergency vehicle stopped, blocking a road, they should find a different route.
Brown County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens said County Road (CR) 8 was closed near the Franklin bridge over the Minnesota River due to water on the road. Other county road closures were CR 10 (Minnesota River bottom road) east and west of State Highway 4.
Stevens said CR 13 north of New Ulm between the city limits and the Beussman Bridge remained open Thursday. However, the Minnesota River water was close to topping it. "We may have to close that road soon," Stevens said.
The Minnesota Highway Department (MnDOT) closed State Highway 19 west of Gaylord, and State Highways 19 and 93 between Henderson and U.S. Highway 169. Both closures are considered "long-term" river closures. Highway 169 was closed in both directions between Belle Plaine and Shakopee.
Highways with restrictions or water over the road included State Highway 22 north of Gaylord and Highway 112 west of Le Center.
The highway department reminded drivers that it is illegal to travel in areas where roads are closed. Motorists can be fined up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. In addition, if travelers need to be rescued from a closed road, other expenses and penalties will apply.
Gov. Mark Dayton declared a State of Emergency in 35 counties Thursday, following the recent storms and flooding. The executive order makes a wide range of state resources available and engages state agencies in response efforts.
Counties include Blue Earth, Brown, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Renville, and Sibley.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).