Spring floods in the Red River Valley tend to build gradually at first. Once the water starts moving, however, flood fighters have about a week to get ready for the crest as the river rises at the alarming rate of two to three feet per day.
Advance preparation is key. In the event that heavy rains coincide with the spring melt, as happened in the record 2009 flood, what is already a harried effort becomes a mad scramble.
So it was reassuring last week when Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney declared a state of emergency, a step that not only formally announces the flood fight is on, but also enables access to important resources.
As the flood forecast was ratcheting up, the mayor’s action was heartening. It meant the city had our back and we knew we were in good hands.
Mahoney served alongside Fargo’s premier flood commander, Dennis Walaker, who died in 2014. This could be Fargo’s first big flood without Walaker, who became a seasoned flood fighter as Fargo’s director of public works before serving as mayor.
Some veteran flood leaders, including former City Engineer Mark Bittner and City Administrator Pat Zavoral, have retired. But those who have stepped in to fill their roles are, like Mahoney, veterans. The flood response plans are well established and well practiced by now.
Fargo’s well-oiled flood-fighting machine is kicking into high gear. Beginning Tuesday, March 26, Sandbag Central will come to life as volunteers start filling 1 million sandbags to protect areas lacking permanent flood protection.
Supporters of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion got some noteworthy good news last week, thanks to the efforts of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. Because of design changes needed to win approval from Minnesota regulators, the cost of the diversion jumped by $600 million.
That prompted the Metro Diversion Authority to ask for the state of North Dakota and federal government each to contribute another $300 million for the $2.75 billion project. Getting the increased federal share was a significant accomplishment on Hoeven’s part, and should help convince North Dakota legislators to follow suit.
We don’t know how bad this spring flood will be. But we know that we have top-notch leaders who will steer us through the shoals. As Mahoney said in announcing the flood emergency declaration, echoing Walaker’s words, evacuation is not an option.