By Raya Zimmerman and Kristi Belcamino
As flood-ravaged counties across Minnesota attempt to recover from the soggiest year on record, state officials are in the process of seeking federal funding to help the rebuilding begin.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar toured several flood-damaged areas Sunday afternoon, saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was expected to begin its damage assessment Tuesday to determine whether the state qualifies for federal funding relief.
Klobuchar said this year's widespread flooding was "unprecedented."
"We've never quite seen anything -- for decades -- where the entire state experienced some type of flooding," she said.
Federal officials will assess flood damage this week to see if it meets the $7.3 million in damages threshold required to receive federal funding, she said.
"The only thing the federal government looks at is the public infrastructure, so we have to add up damage to things like roads and bridges and wastewater treatment plants," Klobuchar said Sunday.
The next step is asking for a formal federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, she said.
"I have personally talked to the President about this, as has the governor, as has Sen. (Al) Franken, to make very clear to him what an important issue this is. I think we were fortunate he came himself for two days and was able to see the water rushing over Minnehaha Falls. He personally commented to me about that, and I think he knows how extensive this damage is, and that's helpful he's been there to see it."
FEMA will have its assessment complete in a little more than a week.
"We have faith they are going to act quickly to get the assessment done and start getting us funding so we can rebuild and recover," she said.
Counties that don't quite qualify for federal funding might meet the state threshold for recovery help, which is lower than the federal threshold, she noted.
Meanwhile, the forecast this week is for warm weather and possible scattered showers.
The threat of heavy rain is low, said meteorologist Jacob Beitlich, with the National Weather Service. Things will cool off by midweek, with highs in the low 70s expected to zap any lingering humidity.
Most rivers in the state have crested, the National Weather Service said, and water levels will continue to drop in coming days. The Mississippi River was measured at 19 feet Sunday morning -- 2 feet above major flood levels. The weather service said the river should fall below flood stage by Saturday.
Earlier this week, Mississippi River flooding forced the Taste of Minnesota to relocate to the Carver County Fairgrounds in Waconia, from its annual spot on Harriet Island, where water levels Sunday reached 17.5 feet.
Minnesota Public Radio reported Sunday that the high-intensity rain in June led to excess stormwater flowing into the river.
The station quoted Pat Baskfield of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that events such as this month's storms can account for 80 percent of the sediment load that passes through the river in a year.
The rain washed phosphorus and other fertilizers from farms and river banks into the river, Baskfield said, and levels are as much as 10 times the proposed pollution limit.
Kari Spreeman, a St. Paul public works spokeswoman, said silt that has been pushed up onto river banks cannot be put back into rivers and must be transported to a landfill. It was not immediately clear Sunday what the city had planned for flood recovery efforts and how much silt would have to be transported.