I've learned over the years that nobody can put a happy face on a flood like Todd Morse of south Moorhead. It's not that there aren't a million things he'd rather be doing this weekend than babysitting the Red River, but he's the poster boy for the "see the problem, fix the problem" spirit that's the only way to get through flood season here.
When the media -- that's me -- come flying in to cover the major drama, this isn't usually the type of thing we focus on -- a man and his sump pump. But this aspect of holding back a river is every bit as important as a line of sandbagging volunteers.
Once the dikes are built, the work doesn't stop; it can't. It turns, instead, to what small weak spot that doesn't seem to an outsider worth paying attention to, is worth paying attention to.
It's little "leaks" like this.
The solution: A five gallon bucket drilled with holes set into the ground slightly, a sump pump you hope won't burn out, a nearby electrical outlet that's probably overloaded, considering the number of similar contraptions that are required, and -- preferably -- a good relationship between man and mud.
This scene is being repeated up and down the Red River this weekend. The word this morning is that the river is likely to crest earlier than expected -- probably today -- lower than expected.
That, of course, is good news except that officials remain worried that homeowners, whose every sentence these days seems to end with "compared to 2009," will get overconfident and start thinking about doing a million other things.
They needn't worry about Todd Morse.(1 Comments)
If you're not from flood country and you know how much work people like John Brummer of Moorhead have put into protecting their homes from the Red River, you might be tempted to look at the situation as I did last evening and say, "what a shame, the water never reached your sandbag dike." And if you're like me, you'd actually say something like that, just to enjoy the look on his face.
Brummer could be a professor of floodology, after battling the Red River for three consecutive springs, two of which are in the top four crests since 1897.
He'll proudly point you to three sump pump stations he's installed in his basement, which have dutifully pumped out the Red River when it looks for ways to get into a home through a rising water table.
How serious a threat is that? The area once occupied by a house just up the street on Moorhead's Riverview Circle provides a good example.
There was, of course, no effort to keep the river out here, but it's worth noting the river didn't need to come through the "front door."
This spot, by the way, is where the dike gave way in the flood of 2009, which I captured on this amateur video at the time.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland finished his flood briefing a few minutes ago, ending with a message to the people in this neighborhood. "How many sandbags have you thrown at this point?" he said. "Maybe next year, rather than having all these sandbags and needing all these volunteers, putting some permanent clay diking around your property might be in order."
With the water about to recede, that comment should mark the official start of "why do those people live there?" season.
John's son, who is in the weather business, has an answer. He studied the top crests of the river and found that the area homes were considered safe as long as the river stayed below the 31-32 foot level. He theorizes that many of the homes that have been bought out, moved, or torn down to build a flood wall recently, were built before 1970. Since the flood of 1897, only one other time before 1970, has the Red River exceeded 31 feet (1969).
Since 1970, however, the Red River has crested above 31 feet 13 times.
Many people in the area are waiting for a buyout offer. Selling to someone else seems out of the question -- a house across the street from the Brummer's has been for sale for a year. For many, there's no real choice but to stay and fight until something can be done somewhere to change the behavior of the river, or until the "wet cycle" ends -- if it ends.
Every conversation I've heard in the few days I've been up here have already considered Voxland's hypothesis and how a clay dike could be deployed around the homes where the conversation is occurring. Because even before the flood of 2011 ends (the river is projected to crest around 1 p.m. today), residents are already anticipating 2012.
I noticed a few small planes flying around above the Red River yesterday, and hoped someone was taking some video.
(h/t: W. Scott Olsen)
Scenes from the flooding in rural Clay County, shot this afternoon
Around Oxbow, ND, here's a quick 360-degree twirl while standing on Highway 81.
Most of us don't know many of our neighbors anymore and if it weren't for the occasional flood, maybe the Riverview neighborhood of Moorhead would be like anywhere else.
But it's not like anywhere else, unless there's another place where a few dozen neighbors are gathering for an outdoor party, a few feet from the swollen river that still is a threat to their homes.
But what else is there to do besides celebrate another spring of pulling together and helping each other out against the river, which crested at 38.78 feet Saturday afternoon and was at 38.7 feet by the time the burgers were ready Saturday evening?
Overconfident? Hardly. There are plans for some of the kids to check the sandbagged dikes every hour through the night. Grateful? Absolutely. You can't survive the fourth-highest water in history unless everyone depended on everyone else. The two constants here are high water and a committed group of residents.
"When do have the planning meeting for next year?" I asked.
"This is it," Donna Morse said.
I'm pretty sure she wasn't kidding.