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Matt Von Pinnon, Published April 10 2011

Von Pinnon: Water doesn’t always pick winners, losers

REED TOWNSHIP, NORTH OF WEST FARGO - Karen Kraft and her mother, Sandra Scheidegger, are at the crossroads of water politics this weekend.

Karen lives within a short walk of her semi-rural childhood home, where her mother still resides.

The only thing separating the two is 19th Avenue North, a gravel road in these parts where it intersects with Cass County Road 17.

Karen’s on the north side of 19th, her mother on the south side. A swollen Sheyenne River routinely floods the area this time of year, though most homes are high and stay dry.

So when township officials decided a couple of days ago to raise the road between Karen and her mother to protect the newer homes north of 19th from unprecedented flood levels in the area, Karen protested. She knew the measure that might benefit her would surely mean more heartache for her mother and her mother’s dozen or so immediate neighbors.

Karen lost her protest, and her mother and her mother’s neighbors are now fighting to save their homes from floodwaters that are much higher than usual because of the built-up road that’s acting like a levee.

Both wearing the hip-waders that now allow them to reach their homes through hip-deep waters, Karen and Sandra stood Saturday at the crossroads of 19th Avenue and County Road 17, surveying Sandra’s predicament as floodwater rushed underneath their feet.

Neither are engineers or hydrologists, but they’ve lived in the area long enough to know the river’s behavior. The water wants to flow north, Karen said.

Karen said township officials told her they were raising 19th Avenue to force the water farther east, thus protecting housing developments immediately north of there. They even cut the east edge of County Road 17 to further encourage the water to move east.

Karen could see that some water was moving east of the intersection, but a lot of it was also backing up into the area where her mother lives. Some homes in that area that had never taken on water were losing the battle Saturday. Also, just to the northeast, where some of the water was now being pushed, homeowners were also reporting unprecedented floodwaters threatening their homes.

This entire area north of West Fargo is susceptible to flooding. The Sheyenne Diversion rejoins the mainline river just south of here. The Maple River joins the Sheyenne just north of here. Both rivers are pushing northeast to the Red River. Still, most people in the area blame the Sheyenne Diversion for adding to their water woes. They are skeptical of the downplayed impacts of major flood control measures, let alone little ones like raising a road to manipulate the flood’s flow.

Despite all the positive things that come from a flood, like neighbors helping neighbors in their time of need, wherever water flows, politics follows. Some decisions pit neighbors against neighbors. Some, apparently, also put family members on opposite sides of a solution.

Karen said Saturday that she’d gladly take higher water levels around her house if it meant her mother could take on less. But she wasn’t in a position to make that decision.

Welcome to the crossroads of water politics: Water doesn’t always choose who wins or loses. People often do.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579 or mvonpinnon@forumcomm.com