Devastating Flash Floods Cut Off Wisconsin City, Overwhelm Treatment Plants

In northern Wisconsin, extensive washouts destroyed roads, bridges and harbors. It could be years before the area fully recovers.
Devastating Flash Floods Cut Off Wisconsin City, Overwhelm Treatment Plants
Highway 13 in Highbridge, Wisconsin, the main road between Park Falls and Ashland. Photo courtesy of Ed Monroe.

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A massive storm has washed out roads, bridges and critical underground infrastructure in northern Wisconsin, essentially severing the area from the rest of the state.

Officials continue to survey the destruction, which includes extensive damage to Saxon Harbor, a popular marina on Lake Superior, and parts of U.S. Highway 2, a major thoroughfare in the region.

In response, Gov. Scott Walker declared a State of Emergency in eight counties after the area received 8 to 12 inches of rain on Monday night. The Ashland County Emergency Management Agency also issued a warning that travel was not advised, as flash flooding made for treacherous conditions.

According to the Weather Channel, the White River rose 7 feet, a new record level, and the Bad River rose more than 15 feet. The Ashland Daily Press reports that rivers in northern Wisconsin are receding, but many roadways remain closed with no timetable for repair.

The newspaper also reports that a sanitary sewer overflow occurred at the city of Washburn’s wastewater treatment plant on the night of the storm, spilling about 70,000 gallons of untreated wastewater. City officials say a high amount of inflow was experienced due to a large amount of rain in a short period of time. Public Works personnel initiated a bypass to help protect the plant, which sits on the shores of Lake Superior.

The Bad River Tribe wastewater treatment plant was also overwhelmd by floodwaters, and is in the process of being restored.

“I express my thanks and appreciation to all of the first responders and officials in the area who are working hard to manage the situation,” Walker says. “I am instructing the Wisconsin National Guard and all state agencies to aid those affected by the storms.”

The powerful storm also hit parts of Minnesota. In Moose Lake, which lies to the southwest of Duluth, the wastewater treatment plant has been discharging untreated wastewater into Moose Horn Lake and the Moosehead River at a rate of 450 gpm. 

Photos posted to social media this week capture the extent of the damage:



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