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Published May 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

Threats not just from river system

Today, the grassy ditch outside Troy Gilbertson’s south Moorhead home is mostly dry and clean.

By: Eric Peterson, INFORUM

Today, the grassy ditch outside Troy Gilbertson’s south Moorhead home is mostly dry and clean.

Two months ago, during the height of spring flooding, it was another story.

As the river rose, Gilbertson and his family were shocked to watch the water creep so closely to their home. After all, the Gilbertsons don’t live by the river.

Instead, the water was coming from Moorhead’s 40th Avenue South ditch.

“It basically became an extension of the Red River behind our house because it wasn’t blocked off at the Red River,” Gilbertson said. “I had riverfront property, and I’m blocks from the river. Never thought once I would be in that situation.”

Other Moorhead residents, as well as many in Fargo, found themselves in a similar situation.

River levels were so high that water started to back up through many of the area storm drains.

“During a flood event like that you may have riverfront property that you never expected,” said Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

While the storm drains are essential to move water to the river, they can create problems when the system becomes too saturated, especially around drains that don’t have backup protection.

“If you have property along there, it is as flood prone as anything along the river,” said Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner.

Drainage not cheap

Fargo and Moorhead move water to rivers in varying ways, ranging from natural ditches to underground pipes.

Moorhead has around 40 storm drains, Zimmerman said, and around 25 percent are backup protected.

Zimmerman is often asked why all drains weren’t backup protected after the 1997 flood.

The simple answer: cost.

Gating drains ranges from $25,000 to $75,000 per drain, Zimmerman said. If you add a pump station to the equation, the price tag ranges from $500,000 to $750,000 per drain.

“After this event we are going to attempt to gate as many as we possibly can,” Zimmerman said. “It gets to be a lot of money.”

Ideally, all storm drains would be gated with pump stations, Zimmerman said, because gating alone doesn’t alleviate every potential problem.

Taken off guard

There are seven legal drains in the Fargo area. Drains 27 and 53 and Rose Coulee – which are in the south part of town – caused the most concern during the recent flood as they are uncontrolled drains, said Fargo Senior Engineer April Walker.

About 120 feet wide at the top of the channel, Drain 27 looks like a large canal behind Jon Studsrud’s backyard. He lives on 39th Avenue South between 42nd and 45th streets.

Studsrud, 35, and his neighbors built a sandbag dike along the edge of their backyards when the water in Drain 27 started to swell and eventually froze when temperatures cooled.

“It looked just like one big frozen ice-skating rink almost,” Studsrud said.

Studsrud said the water never got to the sandbags, which were built to a river level of around 43 feet, in his yard.

He said flooding “was not a concern” when he purchased his home five years ago.

But Walker notes that this was a larger flood than we have ever faced.

“There were a lot of surprises to a lot of people who felt they were not at risk,” she said. “A lot of people were surprised that suddenly they had to build something in their back-yards where they had never had to do anything in the past.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com

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