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Flood waters from the Rainy and Black rivers inundate Loman Park along Minnesota Highway 11 in Loman, west of International Falls, on Saturday afternoon, June 14, 2014. Highway 11 has been closed at Loman because of high water. (Photo by Kallie Kantos-Fritz / Perceptions Photography)

Flooding continues along U.S.-Canadian border; highway closed west of International Falls

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RAINY LAKE, MN- Volunteers continued to fill sandbags Saturday to battle rising waters on Rainy Lake near International Falls, under the threat of more heavy rain today.

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Meanwhile, Minnesota Highway 11 was closed near Loman, west of International Falls, because of flooding along the Rainy River, which has risen more than 5 feet in the past three days as water from Rainy Lake and other lakes upstream pour into the river. Residents of Loman also were filling sandbags to hold back the rising water.

Just downstream from Loman, the gauge at Manitou Rapids reported a river stage of 20.66 feet at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. That's second only to the record crest of 21 feet, reached in May 1950, the National Weather Service reported. The river hit 19.33 feet during a high-water event in 2002.

Spring snowmelt and recent heavy rains have pushed the water level in lakes and rivers along and near the U.S.-Canadian border to levels not seen in years. The water has damaged docks and is threatening some low-lying homes along Rainy Lake; thousands of sandbags have been filled and distributed.

“So far we’ve been able to hold it back” from cabins and houses, Koochiching County Sheriff Brian Jespersen reported Saturday afternoon.

Lake levels

Rainy Lake and adjacent waters are controlled by dams, with water-level targets overseen by the International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board.

After the heavy snow of last winter, the board in early April directed dam operators to lower the Rainy Lake level to 1,005 feet — referring to elevation above sea level. Rainy Lake rose from that point thanks to the snowmelt in the vast watershed that collects in the lake and exits via the Rainy River.

Matt DeWolfe, the board’s Canadian engineering adviser, said Friday that just as the snowmelt was winding down in late May, heavy rains started to fall in the region and the lake continued to rise. On Sunday morning the lake was at 1,009.9 feet, up from 1,009.5 feet on Friday; the target level for mid-June is about 1,007.25 feet. The dams are wide open, DeWolfe said — taking as much water as possible out of the Rainy Lake basin, but also causing high water downstream along the Rainy River.

As high as it is now, the level of Rainy Lake has been higher in the past. In 2002, the lake reached about 1,110.5 feet, DeWolfe reported. In 1950, it reached about 1,113 feet.

The Weather Service on Saturday issued a flood warning for Koochiching and northern St. Louis counties through Monday afternoon, and issued a flood watch for the rest of the Northland through Sunday evening. Rainfall across the region overnight and Sunday is forecast to reach 1 to 3 inches, with locally higher amounts possible.

International Falls has seen its second-wettest start to June since record-keeping began in 1895.

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