Heidi Shaffer, Published January 30 2011
Ready for the Red? Challenges remain despite Fargo projectsFargo’s defenses against a rising Red River are better than during 2009’s record crest, but even with the almost 20 projects either complete or under way, a major flood is still a fight.
“We’re definitely in a better position than we were in 2009,” said April Walker, Fargo senior engineer.
Overall, the improvements provide protection to about 43 feet in several areas. The projects eliminate the need for more than 3 miles of clay levees, a half-mile of Hesco barriers and almost 700,000 sandbags during a flood similar to 2009’s magnitude, city documents show.
But if the river crest reaches levels similar to predictions this month by the National Weather Service, protecting the city will still be a challenge, Walker said.
The Red River has a 50 percent chance of reaching 37.3 feet and a 10 percent chance of reaching 42.6 feet, according to the weather service’s Jan. 27 outlook.
“Anytime you’re above 40 feet is always a challenge,” Walker said.
The Red crested at 40.84 feet in 2009 and 36.95 feet last spring.
This year, Fargo is preparing to build protection throughout the city to 44 feet, allowing 2 feet of freeboard for a 42-foot crest.
Most of the improvements since 2009 involved raising existing levees or making permanent the clay dikes that were previously installed temporarily in the weeks leading up to a crest, Walker said.
“That frees up resources” during a flood, Walker said. It means crews would have time and materials to install earthen levees in places that were sandbagged during past floods, she said.
One area where improvements will be most apparent is in Meadow Creek.
The south Fargo neighborhood primarily sandbagged in 2009. A clay levee that was put in place this fall will cut sandbag needs by about 186,000 bags for 44 feet of protection, engineers said.
Fargo has purchased 47 homes since 2009, Walker said. Moving out the most at-risk homes saves sandbags, but most acquisitions also helped improve neighborhood protection by allowing for permanent measures in their place.
Other improvements included floodwall installation, such as in north Fargo’s Ridgewood Addition, and storm sewer upgrades.
Still work to be done
Fargo reaches major flood stage when the Red River hits 30 feet.
At that level, clay levees are still necessary along downtown’s Second Street and north Fargo’s Oak Street, Walker said.
Sandbagging is required in a number of areas along the river when levels reach 37 or 38 feet, she said.
South Fargo’s Rose Creek was an area that required intense sandbagging in 2009.
While improvements along the southern edge of Rose Coulee greatly reduce the need for emergency efforts, the north side will remain a critical area because bank instability has prevented engineers from installing permanent protection, Walker said.
More than 250,000 sandbags are still needed to protect the area to 43 feet, according to city documents.
Oak Creek, near Centennial Elementary in south Fargo, is another difficult area to protect because it’s a tight squeeze for equipment and sandbags, Walker said.
“And it takes a lot of bags,” she said. “You’re needing 4 to 6 feet of protection at the levels that we’re talking about.”
The Belmont Park neighborhood, near Lindenwood Park, was evacuated in 2009 because of a levee failure. Even with three buyouts and a higher earthen levee, it’s still a difficult area to protect, Walker said.
Last week, engineers identified a number of additional projects and about a dozen homes that, if acquired by the city, could help reduce the number of sandbags needed in certain areas or allow for better clay levee protection.
City Engineer Mark Bittner told commissioners there is still work to be done to protect Fargo against a 500-year flood event – even if a proposed diversion is built.
“If we want 500-year protection, we have to do all of this,” Mark Bittner said.
Price of protection
In 2009, Fargo’s emergency measure costs topped $8.2 million. The city has been reimbursed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $6.9 million, according to the city finance office.
Last year, emergency costs reached almost $3.5 million. FEMA has repaid $2.2 million on those projects.
In 2010, some of the emergency levees installed were not removed, so the city was not reimbursed by FEMA for those costs, Finance Director Kent Costin said.
“We did not feel it made sense to remove them if they would ultimately become part of our long-term flood control efforts,” Costin said.
If the levees were removed, the city would receive FEMA reimbursements.
Since 2009’s record crest, the city has spent or plans to spend about $24 million on improvement projects, according to engineering documents.
Of that, $16 million are local funds, $13 million come from the city’s half-cent flood sales tax, and $7.3 million come from state funds, engineering documents show.
Homeowners who have sandbagged during past floods can get a head start on preparations by inspecting backyards and clearing a path for equipment and materials, said Senior Engineer April Walker.
Walker also suggests checking sump pumps to make sure they are working.
Sandbag filling will start in mid-February, and the city will hold neighborhood meetings, but specific dates have not been released.
For more information on preparing property for a flood, visit Fargo’s online Flood Information Center: www.city
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511