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Published February 22, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sheyenne Diversion should hold up through flood

West Fargo officials don’t expect major problems this year
Unlike Fargo-Moorhead, most of West Fargo and nearby Horace already are protected by permanent flood protection through a diversion channel of the Sheyenne River.

Unlike Fargo-Moorhead, most of West Fargo and nearby Horace already are protected by permanent flood protection through a diversion channel of the Sheyenne River.

In its 18-year history, the diversion has stood up to the test of record-level floods, including those in 1997 and 2009.

Rumored concerns among residents recently that the diversion was “broken” has led West Fargo leaders to stress the viability of the diversion, as preparations for potential spring flooding begin to take off in the region.

Concerns remain about possible flooding this spring, but West Fargo officials said they don’t expect major problems – especially by beginning preparations now and keeping an eye on risk areas that might cause problems if waters rise in the river and adjoining diversion.

The Sheyenne Diversion, built in 1992, is composed of two parts.

The Horace Diversion, which runs south and west of Horace, takes the top portion of the Sheyenne River through a channel that runs seven miles to the north.

That channel connects into the West Fargo Diversion south of Interstate 94, where the river diverts around the city to the northwest.

The diversion channel rejoins the Sheyenne River north of 12th Avenue North. From there, the Sheyenne River flows north through rural Reed Township and Harwood before flowing in to the Red River, less than 10 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead.

On March 28, 2009, floodwaters at the West Fargo portion of the diversion crested at the fifth-highest level on record: 22.82 feet, or 1.82 feet above major flood stage there, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

But West Fargo Public Works Director Barry Johnson said last week even if floodwaters this year reached that level, there would still be 5 to 6 feet of availability left in the diversion.

The major problem in 2009, though, wasn’t having enough space for the water to go, but rather the formation of ice along bridges and other areas that jammed the water’s ability to flow elsewhere.

West Fargo officials are already getting backhoes on standby in case ice jams happen again this year, but so far, city leaders don’t foresee major problems.

Downstream residents, who live in the rural northwest parts of West Fargo and north into Harwood, live beyond the safety of the diversion and have faced much overland flooding from the Sheyenne over the years.

They’re cautiously optimistic at this point, but a lot can happen in the weeks leading up to a potential flood, said Bernie Stasch, Harwood’s public works superintendent.

Residents near Harwood have grown accustomed to fighting off floods every spring, because several regional waterways flow within four miles of the city, but “every year it gets a little harder,” Stasch said.

Stasch said early preparations are beginning for another battle against the rising waters, but officials are “still kind of playing it by ear” because of the many factors that play in to flooding.

“We just gotta keep our fingers crossed for no more snow and no more rain,” Stasch said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541