Sandbags reappear along Red Riverby Bob Reha, Minnesota Public Radio
Cities along the Red River are preparing for another flood season. Earlier this week the National Weather Service issued projections that had officials thinking this year's runoff would be an inconvenience. But recent rainfall in a number of communities has tempered that outlook somewhat. Now there are people in the Red River basin working to stay dry.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited with Moorhead officials and flew over the affected area on Friday afternoon, then promised to help local officials.
"Our goal is first of all to make sure we're communicating, that we identify potential problems ahead of time and that people are told local leaders are told that if you need help we have the ability to help you," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty's visit comes one day after North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven toured the same area.
Rapid snow melt and rain have caused the river to rise faster than anticipated. Jason Anderson, of the National Weather Service, says rain prompted a big change in the prediction of Red River flood levels.
"Several locations in the southern Red River Valley Basin have been increased by half-a-foot to one foot, based on the one-half to one-inch rainfall we received last night," according to Anderson.
Six or 12 inches might not seem like much, but when you're preparing for a flood, every inch is critical.
The river is expected to crest at 17 feet in Breckenridge, where Mayor Cliff Barth says the town is prepared to meet water at a higher level than that.
"Until we get up to 18 feet 18, 19 feet --somewhere in that area is where it gets crucial -- then we'd have to do an awful lot of work once it gets up to that elevation, but it doesn't sound like it's supposed to reach that," Barth says. "They're predicting 17 at this point and we're protected up past that level, so we're OK."
Barth says for now, no evacuations have been ordered and no homes are threatened. Barth believes flood mitigation projects are helping, especially a diversion canal built to move water from the Otter Tail River around the city before emptying into the Red River.
"It's made a difference on the gauge at the Red River of at least a foot, if not more," he says.
Downstream in Fargo, Mayor Bruce Furness outlined plans to keep the city dry.
"We have been in contact with the Corps of Engineers; we've signed a contract with them to begin building dikes and so we will start just as soon as we can building a dike on Second Street, between Fourth Avenue and First Avenue north. That's a typical dike that goes up," Furness says.
Officials along the river are saying the same thing. High levels of water are expected, but they're manageable. Mayor Furness estimates that 30 homes in the Fargo area are at risk. Furness says there are other concerns. The Fargo wastewater treatment plant is having trouble keeping up with the river flows. City residents are urged to conserve water and plug sewer drains as a precaution.
Mark Bittner, Fargo's city engineer, says people should realize Fargo has changed since the 1997 flood. Many houses in low-lying areas no longer exist, making it easier to keep the city dry.
"The mayor talked about 30 homes, that would have been 130 homes prior to 1997. As far as temporary pumps in '97, we had I believe it was temporary pumps approaching 40 locations. We're dispatching six temporary pumps at this time," according to Bittner.
There are emergency declarations issued that will let cities in the Red River Valley qualify for federal aid. This will help the city pay for temporary dikes and equipment to fight the flood.
What is needed now is some help from above. Jason Anderson of the National Weather Service says the precipitation outlook is good. Forecasts don't call for any substantial amount of rain until next week.
- All Things Considered, 03/31/2006, 5:23 p.m.