The water isn’t high enough for Noah’s ark to float on but the standing water at the Wadena County Fairgrounds seems to have been an ongoing problem since the flood waters receded.

The water issue is being addressed with a drainage project to hopefully begin in fall 2021. The project focuses on the area between Hwy 10 and Birch Avenue before moving the water further north, as Bolton & Menk engineers Phil Martin and Anthony Maule presented in a special board of commissioners meeting on May 3. Fair board members also shared their ideas to best resolve the water issues with a lot of where can we move this and are these items required.

Project history

The project moved past discussions again in 2018 when the city of Wadena was awarded $5 million through the state bonding bill for environmental analysis and cleanup costs related to the Hwy 10 reconstruction project. Of these funds, about $2 million is available for the fair drainage project, which commissioners Sheldon Monson and Bill Stearns made sure could be included in the bill’s language.

On March 19, 2019, a bit of flooding overtakes a portion of road in the Wadena County Fairgrounds. Areas throughout the fairgrounds have drainage issues
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
On March 19, 2019, a bit of flooding overtakes a portion of road in the Wadena County Fairgrounds. Areas throughout the fairgrounds have drainage issues Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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After the recent rains, you might have noticed the lake on the front end of the fairgrounds or even attended the fair with puddles. The issues are all too familiar to fair board members, including longtime member Larry DeWald who said the water issue has been ongoing since 1958. Even when the race track area included trees, water was an issue and now a rain event of 1 or 2 inches brings flooding, as Stearns said.

“We’ve been chasing water around this fairgrounds, just when I’ve been involved, for the last decade,” said Ryan Odden, county engineer.

Odden explained that the water from the entire fairgrounds is supposed to enter an 18 inch catch basin and travel to a city storm sewer that does not have the capacity. The drain to the east is also 9 inches higher than the culvert where the water is traveling from, which means the water has to rise to that level before moving out. The changes came with the reconstruction of Hwy 10, which added a culvert by Owly Coffee where the water travels from the south under the highway to the north side.

Drainage project moves water north

With the new drainage, the plan is to mechanically move the water north instead of waiting for a flood of water, as Martin explained. The water will no longer be moved east toward Union Creek due to MnDOT rules. The city of Wadena’s water largely travels to Union Creek.

“No matter what we do if it rains hard, in the short burst you’re getting water here but the thing we’re able to do though is move it out of here instead of waiting for mother nature to take care of it. We’re going to move it somewhere else, that’s what you’re gaining above all,” Martin said.

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There will be a lift station with two 2,000 gallon pumps. With these, the resulting water from a 3.3 inch rain event in 24 hours could be moved in four to five hours. If one pump is used, the water level will be reduced in eight to nine hours. As it is now, water could remain for six days, as Martin and Maule said.

Between Hwy 10 and Birch Avenue, a new collection system will collect the water to begin the movement toward the bandstand and the northern edge of the property. The area will remain mostly flat with a lowered middle portion. The fence area closest to Hwy 10 will be raised about three feet and raised about one-half to a foot in the center, according to Maule. This is where the carnival is placed during the fair. The area is being raised to add a ditch between the highway and the fairgrounds to keep water from the highway entering the fairgrounds.

The water collection also includes expanding the rain garden by the 4-H building along with an additional pond on the opposite side of Birch. The pond filters the water before heading into County Ditch 2.

The project isn’t set to include draining water by commercial building 1. Fair board president Darin Lehmann said there is more water in that area than the carnival area even after a drain was approved in August 2018.

“Why would we want to wreck half the fairgrounds and start all over again when we still ain’t going to have a plan that’s 100% without keep going more, more, more, more, where’s the end?” Lehmann said. The current project could add a different catch basin outside the 4-H building or additional pipe length closer to commercial building 1.

The one problem that can’t be fixed: the flatness of the area, which is why the water is difficult to move.

Project timeline

Commissioners want the issues worked on and quickly so that there is enough time to order materials to begin the project in the fall and have it completed before fair activities begin again in summer 2022. If there are events within the construction period, a specified stop time can be included in the contract to make sure the area is safe for the public events. The project also needs to move forward for the funds to remain available.

Commissioners and fair board members share their ideas on changes to the drainage designs on May 3, 2021 at the 4-H building.
Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal
Commissioners and fair board members share their ideas on changes to the drainage designs on May 3, 2021 at the 4-H building. Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal

While the evening stimulated ideas, fair board members wanted to ensure there wouldn’t be any surprises that will impact the space available for fair activities or parking, as board director Derek Virgin said. Stearns pointedly said the county owns the land and commissioners will make the final decision. Fair board members confronted the notion with having a business to run and the approved designs and construction could impact that business, as Lehmann and Virgin said. They requested to see the next set of designs before the commissioners’ approval.

Odden will email the design to the fair board members and share any comments he receives with the commissioners during their meeting. The revised design is expected for the May 11 meeting. The board meetings are open to the public, both in-person and online.

Martin said the plans are "transparent" and they want to address their concerns. He also added that projects often look different on paper than in actuality, even as a 30-year engineer aspects come out differently than he expected.

The county board will approve the contractor award after the bid process.