Preparations make the difference in 2011 flood fightby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — In a cul-de-sac of a south Moorhead neighborhood, a huge clay levee weaves between four houses, stretching half the length of a football field through back yards and across a large ditch.
The levee marks the spot where two years ago the ditch filled with water and threatened hundreds of homes to the east. It was chaos in the neighborhood, where homeowners scrambled to protect their property with sandbags.
Today, preparing for flood season is a lot different.
The National Weather Service projects that as early as Sunday the Red River in Fargo and Moorhead could crest at between 39 and 40 feet. That's about a foot lower than the agency's previous estimate and lower that the record flood of 40.8 feet two years ago.
But in the third year of significant flooding, the city is more prepared than ever before.
With a temporary levee in place, neighborhood residents like Bill Janson can rest easy. Janson said there's still some sandbagging going on, but nowhere near what it was in 2009, when residents relied on more than 200,000 sandbags.
The levee has only been up for about 10 days, but city officials plan to make it permanent. Jenson said it dramatically reduces the amount of sandbags, sweat and stress that goes into fighting a flood.
"It provides a tremendous amount of relief to the homeowners," he said. "That little 50-yard clay dike not only protects this cul-de-sac and that cul-de-sac but every house east of here."
Moorhead officials say since 2009 they've put up about three miles of permanent new levees in the city. They're hoping that number will double by the end of the year.
Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge said Moorhead will need roughly a million fewer sandbags this year than it did in 2009. That's not only due to more levees, but because the city has been aggressive in buying out properties.
Over the past two years, the city bought more than 100 homes at risk of flooding.
"We're pretty happy with all of the things that we've done since 2009," Trowbridge said. "If we had not had all of these measures in place ... This would be a scary event right now. And right now, if we stay below 40 feet, we're feeling pretty good about everything that we have."
The city of Fargo is using some of the same strategies. Fargo purchased about 70 river properties to reduce the need for sandbagging and to make way for permanent levies. Those levees now stretch about 7.5 miles.
Fargo has also experimented with some new flood protection techniques, including a product called TrapBags that is being deployed for the first time this year. TrapBags are like large sand containers that can be strung together and filled quickly.
There are also water filled tubes deployed at a few locations, as well as something called an AquaFence, which uses marine grade plywood to hold back water.
Fargo senior engineer April Walker said the new flood fighting products reduce the need for sandbags and free up resources for neighborhoods that need them.
"Sometimes we forget that in '09 it was a mad dash to get the bags filled and made as we were delivering them," Walker said. "And there were neighborhoods we had to go to and say we don't have the resources to give you."
In 2009, neighborhoods all along the Red River were in serious danger of flooding. Today, Walker said, there are only about four neighborhoods that require a lot of sandbag protection.
"We don't want to be in that position again," she said. "So we want to reduce our dependence on those emergency measures and use whatever rapid deployment we can that we're comfortable with and we feel will have a good result. Get out of the sandbag-making business."
Fargo officials said sandbagging operations were completed Thursday afternoon. Officials in Moorhead hope to have their sandbagging done by Friday evening.
- All Things Considered, 04/07/2011, 5:51 p.m.