Mapping 'huge deal' for valley
The Red River Valley is having its picture taken in a way that's never been done before. And the results, once a major mapping project is completed, will be views you can use. Aerial laser imaging will compile a topographic portrait allowing bett...
The Red River Valley is having its picture taken in a way that's never been done before.
And the results, once a major mapping project is completed, will be views you can use.
Aerial laser imaging will compile a topographic portrait allowing better flood controls and flood forecasts, as well as better land-use planning and precision farming, among other uses.
Officials today will announce the $5 million collaboration, which covers 41,700 square miles of the Red River Basin in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.
Airplanes flying more than a mile above the earth have begun collecting imaging data using a sophisticated technique involving lasers, global positioning systems and computers.
"They basically paint the earth with a laser," says Charles Fritz, director of the International Water Institute, a flood research and watershed collaborative of the Tri-College University in Fargo-Moorhead.
The "cameras" collect digital points - millions of them in "point cloud" - that computers will assemble into maps with a resolution more than 10 times greater than current maps, he says.
The initial phase of aerial mapping was delayed by this spring's snowstorms. Organizers hope to have all of the data in hand by 2009, weather permitting.
The project stems from recommendations in the aftermath of the devastating 1997 Red River flood. Leaders throughout the basin agreed on the need for better information, in the form of high-resolution topographic maps, to guide planning.
"It's going to make a difference in developing flood-plain models," says April Walker, a senior engineer for the city of Fargo, one of the project's backers. "Having the data will be really helpful."
The cities of Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., already have done their own high-resolution mapping, but having the entire valley will allow better comprehensive planning, officials agree.
"We desperately need the whole area done so we get a better picture of what's happening out there," says former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner, whom Fritz credits with being the biggest proponent of the initiative.
"It isn't just having the data, it's having it available on the Internet," Sinner says. "It's very big."
Plans call for the U.S. Geological Service's EROS Data Center near Sioux Falls, S.D., to host and distribute the mapping information to the public, free of charge.
Parts of the map will become available in chunks as phases of the project are completed, Fritz says.
"It isn't labor intensive," he adds. "But it is computer intensive."
The more detailed topographic map will be a valuable tool for local watershed districts when they consider drainage project permits, Fritz says.
Many agree the collective impact of drainage systems to protect cropland throughout the Red River Valley has not really been studied in detail.
"We will be able to make much better decisions when it comes to permitting," Fritz says. "We live in a highly altered system. Nobody can argue the fact that we've altered the system. We need to have a better understanding of the effects."
The Red River Basin mapping initiative received funding from many partners, including the federal government, which has been asked to contribute $2.5 million, as well as the states of Minnesota and North Dakota, which each have pledged $600,000.
"This project will profoundly impact how we make and evaluate natural resources management decisions in the Red River Basin," says Paul Swenson, the United States chairman of the International Water Institute.
"It's a huge deal," Fritz says.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522