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Dave Roepke, Published March 18 2010

Notices sent to 8 Cass County homes

Residents of eight rural Cass County homesteads received pre-evacuation notices Wednesday, underscoring that another exhaustive flood fight may be on their hands.

The notices mean residents living downstream of the Absaraka spillway northwest of Casselton, N.D., should prepare for possible evacuation.

The North Dakota National Guard planned to monitor the spillway overnight, said County Administrator Bonnie Johnson. The spillway, along the Swan Creek, suffered erosion during the 2009 flood fight and appears to be showing similar signs of weakness this spring.

Meanwhile, overland flooding – mainly from the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers – is fueling concerns for other rural residents as water broke out of the riverbanks Wednesday.

In particular, areas near Harwood could be hit hard, as they were last year, by the Sheyenne’s floodwaters.

“That is where we are going to see the worst of the flooding,” Johnson said.

The Wild Rice drains into the Red south of Fargo, while the Sheyenne empties into the Red north of the city.

If water from the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers can’t empty into the Red, then water begins to back up, said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.

The Sheyenne gauge at Harwood showed the river at 890.1 feet above sea level at 4 p.m. Wednesday. By Friday morning, the river is expected to crest at 891.5 feet, a few inches lower than 2009 and about a half-foot less than the record 1997 crest of 892.02 feet.

Farther south, the Wild Rice near Abercrombie reached 23.42 feet at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday and is forecast to rise to 25 feet on Friday. The river travels north several miles before it meets up with the Red.

National Weather Service forecasters no longer expect the Red in Wahpeton to crest a second time.

The Red topped out just short of 16.5 feet in Wahpeton on Monday, and the river continued to drop as ice jams on the Bois de Sioux weren’t as heavy as expected, meteorologist Greg Gust said.

While the news was good for Richland County residents, officials in Cass County said they were seeing more breakouts Wednesday along on the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers.

“That has to be a concern of ours,” Johnson said.

The Wild Rice drains into the Red south of Fargo while the Sheyenne empties north of Fargo.

The breakouts could be exacerbated by a forecast that calls for the rivers to crest and remain high as the Red reaches its peak in Fargo, now expected early Sunday.

However, Gust said forecasters expect the peak flows from the Wild Rice to hit the Red a few miles south of Fargo early next week – Monday or Tuesday, a day or two after the Red’s Fargo crest hits on Sunday.

The staggered arrival of tributaries is keeping the Red lower but also extends the time it will stay high, Gust said.

“The fact that all of those are coming in with a little different timing is helping to take some heat off the height of the actual crest,” he said.

If there are some minor breakouts, it could end up being favorable, Gust said. Overland flooding should freeze when colder weather hits this weekend, in effect sequestering that water as the main river channels keep flowing.

Gust said the NWS expects a second crest for the Sheyenne in late March or April is expected, but how large is not yet clear. Last year, an early crest was dwarfed by the record-setting levels the river hit in April, after the melt finished upstream.

“The Sheyenne still has to hold its breath a little bit,” he said.

News Director Steve Wagner contributed to this article

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535