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Diversion channel helps fight flooding


BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. -When battling an enemy, it's sometimes helpful to create a diversion.

The strategy appears to be working for Breckenridge and its neighbor, Wahpeton, N.D., in their ongoing war against floods.

A new diversion channel was quietly doing its job Thursday, detouring rain-swollen river water around the two communities and sending it on to the Fargo-Moorhead area to the north, where the potential for serious flooding was also light, officials said

Although there's a 20 percent chance of rain each day through Sunday in the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area, additional precipitation shouldn't cause more than nuisance flooding for those towns or others downstream, said Bill Barrett, meteorologist intern at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

At Wahpeton and Breckenridge, the Red River is expected to crest without incident this morning at about 13.5 feet. Flood stage is 10 feet.


At Fargo-Moorhead, the river is forecast to crest - with little fanfare - at 23.1 feet on Sunday. Flood stage is 17 feet.

"The river gets critical when it reaches 30 feet, and right now, it's a minor flooding situation," said Dennis Walaker, director of operations for Fargo Public Works.

Walaker said the city closed Elm Street on Thursday morning as the river began nipping at the road.

A floating bridge next to Dike East will be removed today, he said.

Given Wahpeton's penchant for flooding, City Administrator Shawn Kessel starts every work day checking river conditions on the Internet.

Even so, he expressed confidence Thursday that the city will remain mostly dry in the wake of heavy rains this week, even with the promise of more moisture to come.

"We aren't lining up sandbaggers," Kessel said.

One reason: the diversion channel, located near where the Otter Tail and Boise de Sioux rivers join to form the Red River.


The diversion, combined with "temporary" dikes built after the 1997 flood and other mitigation steps, should protect Wahpeton to a river stage of 19 feet, Kessel said.

The flood eight years ago crested at just more than 19 feet.

If the diversion had been in place then, the two communities may have averted calamity, Breckenridge City Clerk Blaine Hill said.

"We would have made it," Hill said.

When water is flowing through the diversion, it reduces river levels in town by 1-11/2 feet, just the amount that would have made a difference in 1997, Hill said.

Breckenridge is now protected to a river stage of about 16 feet and if water goes higher, the city can quickly augment existing dikes, he said.

The city is still waiting for federal funds to make temporary dikes constructed after 1997 permanent.

Hill doesn't expect the money anytime soon, which has created a frustrating situation for Breckenridge and Wahpeton. Wahpeton cannot make permanent improvements to its dike system until Breckenridge does.


"Our concern is they may never get their funding," Kessel said. "We've got 9,000 people here we're trying to protect."

Flood worries come with the territory, Maggie Vertin said.

Although the Otter Tail River remained far below the bank in front of her north Breckenridge home Thursday afternoon, Vertin wore an expression of consternation as she gazed on the water swirling past the newly remodeled house.

"If you live in Breckenridge, you're always concerned," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555 Reporter Joe Whetham contributed to this story.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com.
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