Fargo has less time to prepare for higher floodingby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
A new flood forecast for the Red River, projects that flood waters will crest higher and sooner than first thought. For cities all along the Red River valley, the flood outlook takes on different meaning.
In Grand Forks, which faced its worst flooding in history back in 1997, this year's river levels aren't likely to be a problem. The crest isn't predicted to top the city's levees. However, this year, it may be the city of Fargo that's most vulnerable to flooding. As a result, Fargo officials will have to scramble to make sure the city is prepared.
Bemidji, Minn. — Earlier flood forecasts had the Red River cresting in Fargo around the second week of April. Now the crest is expected by the end of next week.
The projection changed after the National Weather Service predicted a few days of rain showers beginning Sunday, according to Tim Bertschi, with the Army Corp of Engineers.
"What they're thinking is the warm temps on the weekend, combined with the precipitation right behind it is going to really accelerate things," he said. "So they're kind of shooting for being up at least near crest by next weekend, the 28th." The new forecast has the city scrambling to prepare for a new crest level of around 40 feet.
That would top the 39-and-a-half foot crest reached in 1997.
City officials have identified 13 Fargo neighborhoods along the Red River corridor and another five along the city's southwest side that need protection from overland flooding.
That means crews will probably have to work around the clock to build clay and sandbag levees at those locations.
The new flood forecast took some people by surprise.
"I think previous to yesterday afternoon there was thought that we'd have a couple of weeks of preparation, and that's now been crunched down into a week time frame and possibly a little bit higher protection levels," Bertschi said.
Meanwhile, Fargo officials are also concerned about overland flooding from the Wild Rice and Cheyenne rivers in South Fargo.
Crews are putting up a three-foot-high clay levee that will eventually be a couple miles long.
According to City Engineer Mark Bittner, it's an area where the city battled flooding in 1997.
Since then, thousands of new homes have been built in the area. Bittner expects water levels will be even higher this year.
"We're trying to cut it off and redirect it into a legal drain" Bittner said. "If it breaks out, it can go all the way north, all the way up to I-94, so there's lots of properties that are at risk."
Fargo officials are hoping to have at least 400 volunteers to begin sandbagging efforts Friday morning. They estimate it will take about one-and-half-million sandbags to protect the city.
This year's flooding is not likely to create problems in Grand Forks, downstream from Fargo-Moorhead.
In 1997, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were devastated by flooding. This year, unless the forecast changes, there's only a 2 percent chance that the water will top the city's levees.
- All Things Considered, 03/19/2009, 5:49 p.m.