Slow-melting snow means Henderson officials hope to avoid major flooding

Flooding in the Minnesota River Valley has created challenges for communities like Henderson for decades. The small scenic city in Sibley County has been hit hard in previous years, including most recently 2020 and 2019. City officials say with the current conditions, they could avoid major flooding this year.

Though the people of Henderson are used to the Minnesota River flooding, no one likes a 35-mile detour to work or school that comes with high water levels.

While there's talk of flooding this spring in other Minnesota communities, including Stillwater on the other side of the state, Henderson Mayor Keith Swenson said the slow-melting snow could be helpful to his city.

"Everybody's watching it very carefully, but it's not the same scenario we've seen in years past that led to outrageous flooding on the Minnesota. But that could change in a day's time with a good rain and a rapid melt. Just doesn't look like it's going to happen," Swenson said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has also been taking flood mitigation steps, including last summer when it lowered part of Highway 19, one of the main routes into Henderson. This month, the department installed stop arms on the highway in case it needs to be closed. It's part of a larger project that also includes raising Highway 93 approximately eight feet, putting it one foot above historic high-water events. Sibley County also received flood mitigation funding for County Road 6.

Currently, the Minnesota River is eight feet below flood stage in Henderson, according to the National Weather Service.

In a community that's figured out how to navigate amid high waters before, the mayor said people in Henderson will be prepared if the river reaches major flood stage again in the future.

"Even if we had that level of flood, the dike, the levee – the permanent levee – protects Henderson, and there's a couple of feet of freeboard on top of the floodwaters," Swenson said.