WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 28, 2011, 09:12 AM

Otter Tail River could reach an all-time high this spring

Breckenridge, Minn. (WDAY TV) - Historically, flood years in Wilkin County consist of major over land flooding, and troubles with the Red River. The safe zone is usually right along the Otter Tail River. That's far from the case this year.

The Orwell Dam, which feeds into the Otter Tail, has been releasing record levels throughout winter. Flooding experts say the river could reach an all-time high this spring.

You have to go back to 1997 for the first and only time former Wilkin County engineer Tom Richels ever sandbagged his home. It sits right on the Otter Tail River. Richels says this year is very likely to be the 2nd time he'll sandbag.

TOM RICHELS - Former Wilkin County Engineer: "I’ve got sand and plastic."

Richels remains active in Wilkin County's flood fight. He says the Orwell Dam is discharging 1430 CFS. Today, about 300 more than this time in '09 and it will likely be discharging more than 2,000 CFS when the melt begins.

TOM RICHELS - Former Wilkin County Engineer: "We're trying to do some calculations to determine just how much this lake might come up based on those discharges at Orwell."

The lake he's talking about is Breckenridge Lake. The Otter Tail River runs right through it.

JIM JOHNSON - Lives on Breckenridge Lake: "About as high as it’s ever been, definitely."

Jim and Judy Johnson live on the lake. It had a history of flooding, so in 2007 the county took out the dam at this bridge to open the water flow.

JIM JOHNSON - Lives on Breckenridge Lake: "I think with that dam out of there is definitely a good thing. It was kind of nice having that old dam in there it was kind of unique but it did hold the water back."

The trouble is the opening may not be enough this year. Jim says in 30 years, he's never seen the water higher, and when the melt begins there's a lot more to come.

Richels is going to Fergus falls tomorrow. He'll meet with DNR and Flood Forecasters to try and determine how high the river will get. Homeowners on Breckenridge Lake should know by Wednesday.