Minnesota flooding updates for Friday, April 8

Posted at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2011 by Michael Olson, Paul Tosto and MPR News Staff

AT A GLANCE: Flooding claims N.D. hunters ... Fargo bolsters levee after cracks appear... Red River "losing steam".... Residents only in Oakport, MN... Grand Forks shuts Sorlie Bridge Saturday.

10:00 PM Water skiing the ditch?

Noreen Thomas and her family farm north of Moorhead. Flooding is a fact of life where they live. This year year though, there was time for a little fun. Noreen, who's part of MPR's Public Insight Network, sent us this video of her son water skiing the ditch with his dad driving the truck.

Happily, no jumps.

6:10 PM Mayors ask legislators for more money

Minnesota legislators toured flood mitigation projects in Moorhead today and listened to several mayors plead for more money to fight floods.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland told lawmakers money spent to buy flood-prone homes is an investment. Voxland says local residents and businesses suffer every time the city fights another flood.

"Our economy comes to a screeching halt," Voxland said. "So when we start talking about flood protection it isn't just to protect homes. It's to protect this economy we have going in this part of Minnesota."

Moorhead has received about $25 million in state hazard mitigation funds over the past two years. Voxland said the city needs another 16. 5 million to finish it's short term flood protection projects.

The mayor of Georgetown, a small town north of Moorhead, told legislators her community is forced to build expensive emergency levees every year because it doesn't have adequate permanent levees.

"Three-point-five million dollars is what I'm asking for," said Traci Gobel. "One time, so you don't have to keep coming in to my community and spending $100,000 a day. Sending in the national guard to patrol. I'm begging for your help. This has gotta stop at some point. It's ridiculous."

(Dan Gunderson)

4:35 PM Fargo official sees Red 'losing steam'

An upbeat Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney tells a Fargo radio station the Red River could crest there by Saturday "and we're going to be probably under 39 feet."

That would be a huge bullet dodged. Officials had been expecting a crest of between 39 and 40 feet this weekend, below current flood defenses but still uncomfortably high.

The most recent National Weather Service chart is still predicting a Sunday crest above 39 feet.

Mahoney, though, told the station that the projected drop in the Wild Rice River at Abercrombie is good news for Fargo. The Wild Rice is a major Red River tributary.


"We're moving it (crest projection) up because Abercrombie crested already and is dropping down and we usually get it 24 to 36 hours after that," he said.

"If you see the (Red) river now it's starting to lose steam."


3:45 PM Twin Cities sewage treatment handling floods

The Pigs Eye treatment facility on the Mississippi River in St. Paul treats more than 250 million gallons a day of whatever we send down our drains and toilets. And the word is that everything is fine, MPR News reporter Dan Olson says.

He writes:

Normally the treated effluent flows into the Mississippi River, but the river is higher than the stream, so the gates have been closed. Here's how the Metropolitan Council describes what's happening:

At normal river levels, the plant's treated wastewater can simply flow through an outfall to the river by gravity. At flood stage, the plant closes gates at the outfall to keep the swollen river from backflowing into the plant, and activates large pumps to push the treated wastewater into the river. These measures were put into place on March 22, and will continue as long as necessary.
The emergency back-up plan in case of a historic flood was to use helicopters to get employees to and from work at the sprawling plant. But that won't be necessary at this point.

The latest flood update from the city of St. Paul shows an estimated second crest of the Mississippi at 19.3 feet by Monday. The first crest was at 19.01 feet on March 30.

3:13 PM Let's be careful out there!

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland earlier today warned of a "deceptive" calm right now as the Red River rises slowly. "It's still a threat out there, just like a wild animal. You just don't know what it's going to do."

The Cass County, N.D., Sheriff's Office in Fargo is echoing that sentiment, warning drivers this afternoon to "exercise extreme caution on county roads. Numerous roads are either closed or have restricted travel due to water on the road surface."

With clay levees, water on roads and rain coming, "surfaces have become very slippery. Drivers must pay attention to the conditions on each road surface they drive on."

2:40 PM Fargo bolsters levee after cracks appear

The Forum reports that Fargo crews are adding truckloads of clay to widen the Second Street emergency levee in downtown.

The paper quotes Fargo engineer Mark Bittner saying the additional clay will reinforce the dike and alleviate any concerns about the structure's stability after cracks began to appear along the top.

2:30 PM On the St. Croix flood line

Kristen Wesloh with MPR's Public Insight Network gave us a heads-up on some flood photos from the St. Croix. She writes, "Journalist Amy Ward and photographer John Ward volunteered their time to interview and photograph sandbaggers in Stillwater for Community Thread, the greater St. Croix Valley's regional Volunteer Center."

Here are a few of their pictures:

Thanks to MPR's Molly Bloom for turning them into a slide show.

Got a view on the 2011 floods or a photo to share? Share them with us.

2:15 PM Sandbagging done in Moorhead

Moorhead officials say the city has finished its sandbagging in advance of the river crest expected this weekend and has closed the volunteer center at MSU Moorhead.

City engineers will be checking in with homeowners along the river through the weekend. Citizens can call 218-299-5300 at any time with flood related questions, the city said.

1:55 PM Minnesota Guard starts 200 on flood duty

The Minnesota National Guard says 200 soldiers and airmen have been activated for flood duty in western Minnesota. They began work today patrolling levies and dikes in Moorhead, Oakport Township and Georgetown.

1:24 PM Grand Forks shuts Sorlie Bridge Saturday

Grand Forks and East Grand Forks officials say they'll close the Sorlie Bridge on Demers Ave. on Saturday at noon as flood waters continue to rise.

The Red River was at 41.4 feet as of 11:30 am and the National Weather Service currently projects a crest of between 50-52 feet sometime next week, the city said. The Cities are building defenses to about 60 feet.

1:06 PM All quiet on the Stillwater Lift Bridge

Michael Olson of MPR News shot some video of the Stillwater Lift Bridge after officials closed it this morning because of the swollen St. Croix.

The St. Croix will stay cranky through the next week but is expected to go no higher than minor flood stage.


12:13 PM Guarded optimism on the Wild Rice

Mara Solberg's been watching uneasily as the Wild Rice River swells toward her home in Horace, N.D., south of Fargo. We've been watching, too.


She and her husband Warren are staying at their house as the Wild Rice rises. In emails and phone conversations over the past week she's been helping us tell a story about life in the 2011 flood.

They aren't out of the water yet. Check out the photos Mara sent us this morning of their farm. Still, there's guarded optimism today. One of the two roads leading to their home is still passable using the tractor. The weather forecast is in their favor.

"I need to bale water out from inside the dike because there is a leak somewhere, but otherwise everything is going as good as can be expected," she wrote.




Things are looking much better for the Wild Rice. At Abercrombie, upstream from the Solbergs, the forecast shows a significant dropoff coming in river levels.


So there's hope that the 2011 flood will pass Mara and Warren with relatively little pain.

Sadly, Mara heard the news on the radio about the two hunters from Buffalo N.D., who were missing and whose bodies were found by the flooded Maple River. "I am from Buffalo, so I am waiting to hear names," she wrote. "I am sure I will know them."

11:45 AM Flood photos from Stillwater to Fargo to East Grand Forks

MPR's Public Insight Network is made up of thousands of audience members across the Upper Midwest who share their stories and insights and make our journalism better.

They also shoot some great photos. Here's a collection from the 2011 floods taken in recent days by people in the network. MPR's Molly Bloom put the photos together in a slide show. We'll be posting other photos later in the day.

Got a view on the 2011 floods or a photo to share? Share them with us.

11:18 AM Sandbag beauty?

MPR News reporter Dan Gunderson this morning gives us a different look at the art of sandbagging. Here's a post he wrote for MPR's Minnesota Today page:

Volunteers and homeowners handing sandbags down the line in Fargo got a few surprises this year.

The North Dakota State University sandbag art project decorated thousands of sandbags like this one spotted atop a pile of unused bags in a south Fargo neighborhood.


The project was the idea of Michael Strand, associate professor of visual arts at NDSU. He took several thousand empty sandbags and distributed them to places like daycare centers and senior living facilities. The bags were decorated with permanent markers.They were then added to the stacks of sandbags filled earlier this year at sandbag central in Fargo.

Strand said the idea was to maybe bring a smile to tired sandbaggers. He also used it as a teaching tool for his art students.

"It gets our students to think about the inclusion of community with their own work," he said. "Art can exist as creative activity, community outreach, research and service all at the same time."

It's likely Fargo will have more than a million unused sandbags left over from this years flood fight. The plan is to store them in a warehouse for the next flood. So some of the sandbag art could show up in sandbag lines during the next flood too.

11:01 AM Flood closes Oakport, MN to residents only

Oakport Township, north of Moorhead, is closing down to all but residents. The area is down to one road after emergency levies had to be built on two others, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said at a morning briefing.

County road 26 north of Oakport into North Dakota is also closed now because of water on the road, he said.


10:40 AM Sunday rains could extend Fargo crest

Weekend rains and potential thunderstorms could extend a flood crest at Fargo-Moorhead past Sunday but shouldn't drive the river substantially higher, National Weather Service forecaster Mark Ewens told a Moorhead press briefing this morning.

Sunday evening thunderstorms are the main concern, he said. Besides making it miserable for those maintaining the dikes, the storms could extend the crest. After that, though, the weather looks like it will cooperate, he said.

"We're not looking for heavy, widespread rains that would caused the river to come up."

The Red is expected to hit 39.5 feet over the weekend. Flood defenses are in place to about 43-44 feet.


Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland told reporters the physical work of building the flood defenses will be done by the end of the day. "We're kind of in the boring part of the flood fight...now it's wait and see," he said.

"It's a nonevent right now but that's really kind of deceptive," he added, noting the river is now at the fourth highest level on record. "It's still a threat out there, just like a wild animal. You just don't know what it's going to do."

Residents he said should not be using sump pumps to drain water into the sewers. Too much and it could overload the system.


9:45 AM Fargo-Moorhead, before and during flooding

Nathaniel Minor of MPR News has put together some fascinating photos of Fargo and Moorhead before and during the 2011 flood. It's great stuff where you can slide over and watch the same image change as the Red River rises.

Here's a link. Here's a glimpse at what's there.


9:25 AM: Flood claims N.D. hunters

KFGO reports the bodies of two missing beaver hunters have been found in the Maple River in Cass County, N.D. "Authorities using aircraft and boats had been searching for the two who were reported missing just after 9 p.m. Thursday. A Blackhawk helicopter spotted the hunters' overturned boat and their bodies were located in the river just before 8:30.

The men are 59 and 67. Both are from that area and had been hunting beaver for decades."

9:05 AM: Red River rise slows down

The rise of flood waters on the Red River has started to slow down. Forecasters still expect a crest this weekend of 39 and a half feet. That would be a foot below the 2009 all time flood record but the third highest ever.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple met with Fargo officials this morning. While President Obama issued an emergency declaration for the region yesterday, Dalrymple would prefer a major disaster declaration because that frees up federal assistance money.

"We are being told that there is a new policy where they are holding off on the major declaration until they see the extent of the event and then they come back and add up damages and participation in costs," he said. "We don't think that's a very good way of doing things."

Nearly 400 members of North Dakota national guard are on the Fargo side of the river to monitor the dikes and levees.

8:55 AM: Search is on for missing hunters

Buffalo, N.D. (AP) -- Authorities are searching for two men who did not return from a beaver-hunting trip on the swollen Maple River in southeast North Dakota.

The Cass County Sheriff's Office says the 59- and 67-year-old men from Buffalo were reported missing by their families Thursday night, and deputies found the hunters' pickup truck along the river. Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson tells The Forum newspaper that authorities early Friday also found the men's boat.

The river is flowing fast because of spring flooding. Authorities are searching by air and on the ground with boats and all-terrain vehicles.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

8:05 AM: "The calmest flood"

"The is the calmest flood I've ever covered," said MPR News reporter Dan Gunderson on Morning Edition. Gunderson has been covering Red River flooding from his perch in Moorhead since 1988. Notes from Dan's Morning Edition talk:

-Temporary levees and dikes are mostly complete. Miles of protection have been put in place.
-Over night the rate of rise began to slow, which is good because it indicates that the river is heading near crest stage.
-The Red is approaching 39.5' -- that would be the 3rd highest.
-Beautiful sunny day today but there's a chance of 1/2 inch of rain over the weekend.

7:30 AM: Airboat ride on the Red River

Two new airboats recently acquired by the Cass County (N.D.) Sheriff's Department took to the water for an inaugural launch south of Fargo on Thursday. While the boats have been in the water for training and patrolling, Thursday's outing offered local officials - as well as journalists representing news organizations - a firsthand experience. MPR Photo/Ann Arbor Miller

7:10 AM: Warm and wet weather weekend

MPR's Mark Seeley tells Phil Picardi on Morning Edition to expect a warm and wet weekend. Seeley says the snow season is over, or at least that the trend now looks more like rain than snow. The Fargo-Moorhead area could get a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of rain on Sunday. Heavier rain in the south of Minnesota could lead to higher river levels there.

Seeley also adds that a shutdown of the federal government would not impact the forecasts from NOAA.

6:55 AM: A rapid rise on the Red

Folks up in the Red River Valley are taking this year's flooding in stride. After the waters crest it could end up being the second or third highest flood on record. Here's a graph that demonstrates the river's rise.


6:45 AM: Red approaches near-record flooding

The Red River is just shy of 38 feet at this moment. By Sunday it's expected to crest between 39 and 40 feet.


6:30 AM: Obama declares flood disaster in North Dakota

President Obama has signed an emergency declaration for North Dakota as it deals with spring flooding. The signing makes federal aid available to the state to supplement response efforts. It also empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

More from FEMA

6:10 AM: Fargo-Moorhead prepared for lower crest on the Red

MPR Newscast: The National Weather Service has lowered its projected flood crest for the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead by a foot. Forecasters say the river could crest as early as Sunday between 39 and 40 feet. Previous estimates put the river as high as 41-feet. City officials will be watching to see how some new flood fighting products perform. In Fargo, engineers have deployed water filled tubes in a few locations as a way to hold back floodwaters. Also being used for the first time this year is a product called a TrapBag, which resembles large sandbags that can be linked together and filled quickly.

Governor Mark Dayton has called an emergency meeting today of the state Executive Council to consider a 30-day extension of a state of emergency he declared in 46 counties that could be potentially impacted by flooding.

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