After nearly three inches of rain Thursday, September 22, Northfield Mayor Dana Graham signed an emergency declaration in response to the Cannon River’s dangerously high water level. Riverside sidewalks and bridges were promptly closed for safety, according to information from the Northfield city website and the United States Geological Survey.
While the city prepared for flooding, Carleton enacted its own flood policies, which are part of its emergency operations plan, according to Director of Facilities Steven Spehn. The flood plan includes three levels of severity. This flood never bypassed the lowest level of the plan, but Spehn stated that there was concern the water height might rise high enough to enact the second level. “We were really close,” Spehn said.
During Spehn’s 10 years at Carleton, only the 2010 flooding passed the first level. According to Spehn, in 2010, both the Cannon River and Spring Creek flooded, so precautions and repairs outlined in the flood plan’s second level were required. The flood plan has steps within each of the three stages. Each step contains instructions for actions needed to best protect students at buildings at varying water heights, according to Spehn.
September’s flood most impacted three campus residences–Allen, Prentice and Wilson–and the athletic teams using Laird Stadium and West Gym, according to Spehn. At 12:41 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, 25 student residents, who live in the affected houses, received an email from Residential Life, telling them they needed to evacuate their houses because the rising river presented a potential danger. The email explained that if the river continued to rise, water could seep into basements and contaminate the air. In the email, students were offered a list of emergency housing options, including a limited number of singles. Students had to collaborate with ResLife to find a living space. They were required to get to the ResLife Office for their keys by 4 p.m., which gave them fewer than four hours to plan before moving out of their houses.
“It was a really, really shortened timeline,” said Josh Levine ’17. “I was pretty frazzled because I didn’t know where I was going to sleep necessarily. ResLife was clearly on top of what was happening, but at the same time it was clear that they had a lot to do in the next six hours.”
To assist with the quick move, RAs volunteered to help students pack a few weeks’ worth of possessions, according to Tanya Hartwig, the Associate Director of Residential Life.
“I had two other RAs help me move my stuff to Evans,” said Levine, who lived in a single in Evans until last week when ResLife informed him he could move back to Prentice House
Levine described his experience on the new floor as “definitely weird” but “in some ways it’s kind of fun, like look at this community that I’m not necessarily a part of, but get to see.”
Another change for Levine, and the other off-board students, was a short-term meal plan provided by ResLife. “At first, I think moving was a really big inconvenience, but at the same time, having the free meals has been so nice,” said Levine.
Even with the swift changes, Hartwig said the students were flexible and understanding throughout the entire process. Students were able to return to their houses late last week. Before students returned, the air quality was checked and yards cleaned of excess water and materials from the river. The buildings took on some water, but there appears to be no serious water damage, according to Hartwig. Students living in the houses were not the only students forced to relocate. Many student-athletes moved their workouts and equipment out of Laird Stadium to the Rec Center. The first floor of Laird Stadium sustained water damage, according to Spehn. Among the sports teams, varsity football and men’s soccer faced the greatest impact from the flooding, according to Athletic Director Gerald Young. Both teams practice on fields by the West Gym, and football plays in Laird Stadium, which lies adjacent to the Cannon River.
Due to the damage to the football field, the homecoming game against Hamline University was held at Northfield High School on Saturday, Oct. 1. Despite the change in venue, the football team won their first game this season.
“The thing with football is, as long as you have space, you can get work done,” said Christian Cavan ’20, a running back on the football team, said. “I think the team’s actually taking it really well because all week long we’ve been talking about how we’ve still got to do work despite adversity.”
In addition to football and soccer, other student-athletes were impacted by the closure of Laird Stadium because this building houses the weight room used for all teams’ workouts. Young said that the move to the Rec Center has caused a drain on the facility, doubling the volume of student usage between athletes and non-athletes.
“The student-athletes have adjusted really well to the situation, and all had great performances this weekend,” Young said. “Obviously, it didn’t hinder their preparation whatsoever.” Young was optimistic about the full stadium opening again soon.
“Laird Stadium had the most damage, although in terms of any replacement or renovation work, it is going to be pretty minimal. The clean-up was rather significant because the water was throughout the building, and it leave a fine layer of silt and mud that will take a lot of clean-up,” said Spehn.
Next door to Laird Stadium, West Gym sustained far less damage than it did in the 2010 flood, due in part to the addition of flood doors after the extensive 2010 damage, according to Young. None of the water that entered West Gym came in through the flood doors, resulting in manageable cleanup, he explained. According to Spehn, the fields next to West Gym will not be usable until the spring because it will take a long time to remove the sediment left by the flood and to reseed the grass. While it is unclear how much sand was deposited on the fields, Spehn stated that about 65 dump truck loads were needed in 2014 and 250 dump truck loads were needed in 2010 to clear the sand.
In regards to the total cost for repairs and clean up, Spehn estimates that the total cost will be approximately $200,000. “I just don’t know exactly where we are going to end up yet, but nowhere near what we saw in 2010,” Spehn said. According to a Carletonian article from 2010, the costs of repairs exceeded three million dollars.
Despite the challenges of moving students to new dorms and student-athletes to the Rec Center, Spehn said. “Overall, I think it went quite smoothly this go-around.” Soon, the various departments and offices involved in the implementation of the flood plan will evaluate the process to ensure improvements for future flood response.