Rural Cass County residents watching but not worried about flooding

Most residents in rural areas around Harwood feel the same; they’re watching, but not worried even as Cass County officials warn that rising flood waters could reach top five flood levels.

A home appears surrounded by floodwaters Wednesday, April 19, 2023, southwest of Harwood, North Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

HARWOOD, N.D. — Mike Jennings lives comfortably with his family on a small hill off the banks of Lake Shure, a small body of water that provides fish, fun and in the spring, trouble spots for flooding. The Sheyenne, Maple and Rush rivers aren’t far away, and while he’s lived in Reed Township for about five years, he’s not worried about the 2023 flood.

But he’s vigilant about watching the water levels rise in Harwood, where the Maple and Sheyenne rivers meet.

“If the Red (River) was going to (crest at 41 feet), I’d be buying sandbags and gravel,” Jennings said. The Red River in Fargo was at 26.5 feet early Wednesday, April 19, according to the National Weather Service .

After the 2019 flood, when the Red River rose to 35 feet, Jennings raised his driveway. He has piles of gravel that he plans to use as dams if needed, and sandbags are only a phone call away.

“Our house has never had water in it. We’ve sandbagged before when it came close, but this year the Red is not full,” Jennings said.


Most residents in the rural areas around Harwood feel the same; they’re watching, but not worried even as Cass County officials issued a warning Wednesday that rising flood waters have closed nearby roads and are expected to reach historical top five flood levels.

Jason Benson, county engineer with the Cass County Highway Department, said he's focused most of his attention around County Road 17, near to where Jennings lives, and to Reed, Raymond and Harwood townships, where about 1,500 residents live.


"Overnight we had some overland flooding and some roads flooded south and west of the Mapleton area," Benson said. "Things are starting to fill in from the Maple River and also the Rush River, west of Harwood. That's where we see a lot of change happening as river water levels start to jump up significantly."

“This will be a battle of inches for some, and they’ll be good as long as the water doesn’t go over (County Road 17) to the south," Benson said.

Snow and sandbags

With precipitation early Wednesday, and another round of snow forecasted to arrive Thursday morning that may last until Saturday, April 22, meteorologists are unsure of the impact that additional water will have on flooding.

“The severity of impacts is difficult to determine at this time due to the possibility of varying precipitation types and warm ground temperatures,” the National Weather Service reported.

Snow accumulations in the northern parts of North Dakota and Minnesota could see anywhere from 2 to 10 inches, with wind gusts that may exceed 45 mph. Conditions will affect travel, especially along U.S. Highway 2. Any vehicles that slide off roads may end up in ditches filled with water, the National Weather Service reported.

Areas north of Fargo, specifically Harwood, could see significant flooding as a result, the National Weather Service reported.


For now, engineers with the county are encouraging residents to order sandbags in advance, and to never hesitate if help is needed.

“By Friday, into Saturday, it looks like that whole area west of Harwood will be fairly inundated,” Benson said."If you have used sandbags in the past, we think you should get them now."

Conditions over the next 24 hours should still be decent enough to drive loaded semi trucks to most areas that may be affected, he added.

Pallets of sandbags sit untouched in Sunrise Acres, near Harwood, on Monday, April 19, 2023.jpg
Pallets of sandbags sit untouched in Sunrise Acres, off County Road 17 near Harwood, North Dakota on Monday, April 19, 2023.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Harwood Mayor Blake Hankey said that the town has met with the Army Corps of Engineers and arranged for help if needed. The community has established a flood committee, purchased several thousand yards of clay and prepared thousands of sandbags with a contractor to move them.

“We’re ready. That’s about it. We’re feeling pretty good about things,” Hankey said.

Casey Eggermont, city auditor for Harwood, said on Monday that public works employees were out checking valves around town, and the town has water pumps on standby if needed.

“We’ve always been able to fight floods,” Eggermont said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Cass County Highway Department and an independent contractor have delivered more than 40,000 sandbags to rural county residents. About 3,000 sandbags were included during an emergency response situation near Mapleton late Monday, April 17, from Rush River waters, Benson said.


“It’s definitely going to change a lot up there. It’s always interesting a few days before a flood because the fields are dry and you would think there’s not going to be a flood,” Benson said.

A spectator photographs floodwaters Wednesday, April 19, 2023, from Cass County Road 20 southwest of Harwood, North Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Sunrise Acres

Across the street from Josh Brown’s house in the Sunrise Acres neighborhood, which sits just east of the Sheyenne River along County Road 17 North, hundreds of sandbags rest on pallets. So far, they remain untouched.

As president of the Sunrise Acres Association, Brown has helped organize long term plans against floods for area residents.

“This year’s forecast is below that of the 2011 flood, and since then we’ve done a lot of work, reinforcing,” Brown said. He has lived in his house, which is located on a hill directly above the Sheyenne River, for about 20 years.

The Sheyenne is expected to crest at 91.5 feet by the weekend, and was at 82.7 feet on Wednesday, according to Cass County and the National Weather Service. The record level for the Sheyenne is 92 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

Water pools in a field off  40th Avenue north of West Fargo on Monday, April 19, 2023..jpg
Water pools in a field off 40th Avenue north of West Fargo on Monday, April 19, 2023.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Like his neighbors 5 miles north in Harwood, Brown isn't worried about the flooding. The community has reinforced existing levees and elevated roadways since the 2019 flood.

Catherine Dutcher, who also lives in Sunrise Acres, said her family isn’t worried about this year's flood. She’s lived on the property for about 16 years.


“At this point, we’ve never had water in our house. It’s not looking like it’s going to be that bad this year,” Dutcher said.

In the late 2000s her family sandbagged, but even then the water didn’t come into the house. For now, the sandbags remain where they are, across the street from both her house and Brown’s house.

County Road 17 is a corridor that Benson is keeping a close watch over.

“We have been delivering sandbags, and some people are right on the edge of needing them,” Benson said.

Floodwaters cover Cass County Road 20 on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, southwest of Harwood, North Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

According to county engineers and Cass County Government, some of the areas that may see flooding by the weekend include:

  • County Road 17 and County Road 11 corridors and the Interstate 29 corridor. 
  • North of Mapleton and west of Argusville. 
  • County Road 4, which is expected to experience major flooding from the Wild Rice River, according to the National Weather Service. 

Other areas already blocked off due to flooding include:

  • A large section of 166th Avenue Southeast and the intersecting portion of 40th Avenue Northwest.
  • Portions of 158th Avenue Southeast and 36th Street Southeast near Casselton, and a stretch of 133rd Avenue Southeast around the Walden area.

“Over the next few days water will keep spreading to the east as it gets closer to I-29 in the Harwood area, where the Rush River and lower Rush River come to the Sheyenne,” Benson said.
In Fargo, Second Street South between Main Avenue and Fourth Street South was closed due to rising river level concerns.

Clay County in 'okay spot'

In Clay County, flooding began about two weeks ago and waters first moved north, but are now receding, according to Sheriff Mark Empting.


“Right now our situation is better than we first anticipated it to be or what it was forecasted to be. In Clay County, we are in an okay spot,” Empting said.

Some homes saw water seepage, but no properties were lost, Empting said, noting some roads in the northern sections of Clay County were still under water.

On Wednesday, the city of Moorhead announced the following flood-related road closures:

  • Brookdale underpass
  • Woodlawn Park Drive
  • First Avenue North west of Hjemkomst Center and between Third Street and Seventh Street
  • Third Street from Fourth Street to Center Mall Avenue
  • 15th Avenue North/12th Avenue North bridge between Fargo and Moorhead
Overland flooding threatens a dirt road Wednesday, April 19, 2023, southwest of Harwood, North Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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