FARGO — Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday, Oct. 21, signed an executive order declaring a statewide flood emergency as he and other officials held meetings in communities affected by high water.

At a gathering in Fargo Monday morning, Burgum and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring talked about the unprecedented nature of the water issues farmers and other are facing across the state as wet conditions have all but stopped the fall harvest in its tracks.

Burgum said North Dakota was experiencing conditions "we haven't seen before across the whole state" and officials said perhaps $2 billion worth of soybeans had water standing on them in North Dakota and western Minnesota.

Sarah Lovas, whose family farms near Hillsboro, N.D., shares her worries about this year's stalled harvest and the potential hurdles for next spring's planting during a meeting of federal, state and local officials held in Fargo on Monday, Oct. 21. Dave Olson / The Forum
Sarah Lovas, whose family farms near Hillsboro, N.D., shares her worries about this year's stalled harvest and the potential hurdles for next spring's planting during a meeting of federal, state and local officials held in Fargo on Monday, Oct. 21. Dave Olson / The Forum

The National Weather Service said Monday it was compiling a list of historically high fall river levels for points around the region, but it had yet to document official benchmarks it could use to compare the recent levels with.

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Sarah Lovas, whose family farms near Hillsboro, N.D., told the group of officials, which included Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, that she was grateful her farm had been able to harvest about 9% of its soybean crop at a time when many in the region have not been as fortunate.

Lovas said the worry isn't only for this year's crops, but also next spring's planting, which she said may or may not be possible given saturated soils that have prevented many typical fall activities, including the application of fertilizer.

She said the fact that the farm economy is also facing low commodity prices only exacerbates the situation for growers.

Extension service officials attending the Fargo meeting warned that haying has been deeply curtailed because of water and the potential for a severe shortage of livestock feed looms in the not-too-distant future.

Goehring agreed that a lack of silage "is going to be a real issue," and he warned that farm stress is becoming more and more an issue.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, left, and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring discuss the water issues facing the state during a meeting held Monday, Oct. 21, in Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, left, and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring discuss the water issues facing the state during a meeting held Monday, Oct. 21, in Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum

In tough times like the ones farmers now face, Goehring said the tendency sometimes is for growers to go quiet and not share their concerns with loved ones out of fear of burdening them.

However, he urged farmers to fight such impulses and instead share their thoughts with those closest to them as a way of sharing the load.

"We don't need another travesty in our community," said Goehring, who along with others at the meeting stressed that resources are available for people in crisis, including the 211 help line.

And Goehring had these words for farmers worried about what the future might bring:

"Take a deep breath, and hold on," Goehring said. "You can call me, too. That's been happening a lot."

Goehring and other officials also urged drivers to be mindful of the condition of rural roads and to limit or avoid driving on dirt and minimum maintenance roads when possible in order to preserve them for use by agricultural vehicles during harvest.

In addition to Fargo, Burgum and Goehring visited with people in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Fessenden to hear firsthand about potential impacts of this fall's unusually wet weather.

Information was being gathered for possible requests for a USDA secretarial disaster designation and a presidential disaster declaration, Burgum said.

"There’s an economic hardship that we’re facing here relative to this fall’s harvest that is likely unprecedented," Burgum said. "We have a whole team of people across the state who will be activated as part of our whole-of-government approach.

"Any agency that can help will be helping," Burgum added.

River levels rising, again

As of Monday morning, eight counties and four cities in North Dakota had issued flood emergency declarations, with more expected. Later Monday, the Cass County Commission was expected to declare an emergency as well.

Places where emergencies had been declared as of Monday morning included the counties of Barnes; Cavalier; Grand Forks; LaMoure; Stutsman; Traill; Walsh and Wells and the cities of Grand Forks; Jamestown; LaMoure; and Valley City.

Last week, the city of Fargo offered the city of Jamestown 40,000 filled sandbags from its stockpile and late last week workers from Jamestown arrived in Fargo to take the city up on its offer.

The James River at Jamestown, which had been hovering around 12 feet for most of this past weekend, which is the threshold for minor flooding, had crept up to 12.55 feet by Monday morning. The city begins to take active steps to protect against flooding at 11 feet.

Officials warned that while some river levels had dropped in recent days, they were expected to jump higher again in the wake of rain Sunday night and Monday morning.

According to the Weather Service, the Sheyenne River at Valley City was at about 14.82 feet Monday morning and it was expected to rise to about 17.5 feet by Saturday, where it was expected to hover for several days at just over the line into major flood stage status.

The record spring flood level in Valley City is 20.7 feet.

The Sheyenne River had dropped to 84.42 feet at Harwood Monday morning, or just over the threshold into minor flood stage status. But, it was expected to start rising again, reaching about 90 feet — in moderate flood stage territory — by Friday night, where it was expected to hover for several days.

The record spring flood level at Harwood is 92 feet.

Major flood stage at Harwood is 91 feet.

The Maple River in Mapleton was at about 15.28 feet Monday morning, but it was expected to rise to about 20 feet — minor river stage — by Thursday before falling again. Moderate flood stage in Mapleton is 21 feet and the record spring river level in Mapleton is 23.4 feet.

As of about 1 p.m. Monday, the Red River at Fargo had dropped to about 18.2 feet, though the Weather Service said the river would start rising again Monday evening.

Red River at Fargo 10-21-19

The river at Fargo was expected to reach about 24 feet — just below moderate flood stage — by Saturday and then start dropping slowly.

Major flood stage in Fargo is 30 feet.

The record spring flood level in Fargo is 40.84 feet.