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Published February 28, 2009, 11:16 PM

Planning for dike under way

Flooding predictions for Fargo on riseThe likelihood Fargo will have to build a temporary dike to protect City Hall this spring grew Friday as a new flood outlook slightly raised the already strong chance of major flooding on the Red River.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

The likelihood Fargo will have to build a temporary dike to protect City Hall this spring grew Friday as a new flood outlook slightly raised the already strong chance of major flooding on the Red River.

The National Weather Service outlook predicts a 90 percent chance the river will exceed 32.3 feet in Fargo. The city closes Second Street North to build the earthen dike when the river is forecast to rise above 31 feet.

Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city will build the dike “unless something changes dramatically.”

“We normally use the

50 percent (chance) as our guideline, but it’s a moving target right now,” he said, adding it depends on how much snow falls before the spring melt begins.

The city has secured dirt for the dike and is lining up pumps for a flood, Walaker said.

The outlook predicts a

60 percent chance the river will rise above 35.1 feet and a 10 percent chance it will surpass 38.5 feet. The river crested at 39.57 feet in 1997.

While Friday’s outlook predicts a slightly higher chance of major flooding than the one released in January, “There’s nothing drastically different,” said Mark Frazier, meteorologist in charge at the weather service office in Grand Forks, N.D.

The outlook predicts March and April may be wetter and colder than normal – with the threat of “significant” rainfall near the time of spring melt – because of continuing La Nina conditions.

Those spring conditions would be similar to spring 2006, when the river crested at 37.13 feet, the fifth-highest crest on record. That flood inundated park land and golf courses along the river, but didn’t damage residential areas.

“Is it something we can handle? Yes,” Walaker said.

Walaker said a bigger concern is possible overland flooding from the Wild Rice River south of Fargo. The flood outlook says the snowpack in the headwaters of the western Wild Rice, Sheyenne and Maple rivers contains 5 to 6 inches of water.

“We’ve moved into that area quite extensively,” he said, adding the city may have to set up a line of defense at 52nd or 64th avenues south if the flood threat becomes too great.

The outlook predicts a

50 percent chance the Red River at Wahpeton, N.D., will reach 14.4 feet, a “very manageable” level for the city, said Brett Lambrecht, Richland County’s emergency manager. Major flood stage is 14 feet.

Lambrecht also said overland flooding from the Wild Rice River is a big concern in outlying areas. The county has 50,000 sandbags and has met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Guard to line up assistance if needed, he said.

Tim Bertschi, area engineer for the corps, said Fargo-Moorhead has done a lot of flood mitigation since the 1997 flood, including buying out at-risk homes along the river.

On Monday, the corps will begin drawing down Lake Traverse near Wheaton, Minn., and Orwell Reservoir near Fergus Falls, Minn., to create more water storage during the peak flood season.

Bertschi recalled that during his first F-M flood in 1989, the river crested at 35.39 feet, “and it was pandemonium.”

“It’s become a pretty manageable event at that point, but yet it’s a heck of a lot of water, so you know, you have to be careful,” he said.

The next flood outlook is scheduled for March 13.


If you go

  • What: Flood awareness forum to address federal flood insurance, flood preparedness and mitigation techniques
  • When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday
  • Where: Fargo Civic Center, 207 4th St. N.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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