WATCH: Their future once uncertain, Drayton dikes hold back flood

An earthen dike holds back the rising Red River in Drayton, N.D. Matt Henson / WDAY
An earthen dike holds back the rising Red River in Drayton, N.D. Matt Henson / WDAY

DRAYTON, N.D. — The flood fight is winding down in Fargo-Moorhead and Cass County, but farther north in the Red River Valley it is still ramping up.

The rising Red River flowed behind Drayton resident Joyce Tuttle's home Monday, April 15, as it continued its slow climb to a predicted crest of nearly 43 feet later in the week.

"This is like my lake front property. As long it doesn't go any higher I'm OK," she said.

A mile of dikes built after the 1997 flood should keep her home safe, along with the rest of the city of 700 that sits along the river.

But Drayton almost didn't have them this spring.

Just a few months ago, the city struck a deal with the federal government to keep the system. For years, the government wanted them knocked down, having classified the mounds of dirt as structures — which can't be built on FEMA buyout land.

"We argued structures are brick and mortar and steel. Dirt is not structure," Drayton Mayor Chip Olson explained. "Finally common sense prevailed."

The victory could not have come at a more critical time. The Red River at Drayton could reach 42.5 feet later this week, the highest level in a decade and the sixth highest crest on record, according to the National Weather Service.

If the dikes had been knocked down, the city would have been scrambling to build protections at the last minute, something Olson said could have financially drained Drayton, as the city would have needed to hire contractors to help. The last minute protections would have taken several weeks to build and might not have worked as well either.

"Permanent levees . . . have grass on them, which makes them more stable, and if they are dirt they are more prone to cracking and sloughing," Olson said.