Wabasha takes protective measures as Mississippi River encroaches on town

(KSTP) – The Mississippi River is now cresting its banks in Wabasha, leaving a big impact on the riverside city.

“It’s crazy,” declares Jill Goff, who recently returned from a trip to San Diego. “A week ago, when I left, it was not like this. I’m just in awe.”

“It usually doesn’t get this high,” adds Rich Przytarski, a lifelong Wabasha resident. “It’s only once in 10 years. … You’ve got two to three weeks of cleanup.”

River water is where it shouldn’t be, including at Slippery’s Restaurant, located right on the banks of the river.

The establishment’s deck is now underwater, its patio half covered. The high waters forced Slippery’s to shut down.

“We had to move all the restaurant upstairs, and the kitchen stuff here outside,” explains Tony Wiebusch, a cook. “It was not fun to do, but we had to do it because we’re getting flooded.”

The high waters have already impacted several neighborhoods, shut down sports fields and closed parts of Highway 60, one of the main roads there.

“It was predicted for 17 feet by Tuesday, peaking at that time and then going down after that,” says Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand.

Durand, mayor since 2019, says several streets have been closed to prevent people from driving in flooded areas.

She says she’s especially worried about area infrastructure.  

“The wastewater treatment facility obviously is the real concern,” Durand says. “That thing has been overtaxed badly. It’s a whole week. So we have to release water into the Mississippi because a lot of that comes from older infrastructure, and in a city this old, we have clay pipes in a good portion of our city. That causes seepage when flooding [is] at this level.”  

Earlier Thursday, the fire department took the unusual step of filling the basement of Slippery’s with about 5,000 gallons of water to offset pressure from the river, keeping the walls from collapsing.

Przytarski likens it to a car underwater.

“It’s the same principle,” he says. “You open the doors and windows. And the water, it’s inside that way. It doesn’t wash the walls out, otherwise hydraulic pressure.”

A lot of water is coming to the Wabasha area. Upstream, both the Chippewa and St. Croix rivers flow into the Mississippi.

With snow coming from the north, along with expected rain showers, the river could rise another foot and a half. It’s expected to peak sometime next week.

Despite all the high water headaches, residents say it’s all part of living near the river and that in better times, they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“We know the Mississippi is going to do this,” notes Jill Goff’s husband, Roger. “We just haven’t had this much snow in the recent past, so we haven’t seen these kinds of high water levels. You’ve got to expect runoff like this. It’s going to happen. It’s just nature taking its course.”