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Published March 23 2013

Forum editorial: Fargo can manage 38 feet

Forecasters say the Red River Valley will experience a “significant flood” in a few weeks. So when is a flood not significant?

There is a 50-50 chance the Red River will crest at around 38 feet, which is 8 feet above major flood stage at Fargo. Thirty-eight feet will cause the city and surrounding areas to call out sandbag crews, but Fargo and Moorhead have put in place levees and other structures that protect above 38 feet. The work that has been done since the great floods of 1997 and 2009 means the cities are in the best shape ever when it comes to keeping the water back.

However, not every part of the suburban and rural flood zone is, or can be, protected. Overland flooding from the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers is more difficult to forecast. The rate of snow melt, spring rains, the percolation factor, ice in rivers and whether drains and culverts are thawed affect the speed and depth of overland flooding. Snow depths in the Sheyenne River Basin, for example, suggest the long and meandering river will be a moderate flood threat in some areas a few weeks from now.

At this point – and it can change quickly as spring arrives – Fargo and Moorhead are well-prepared for a flood of 38 feet or slightly higher on the Red. That really is amazing. It was not long ago that holding back a 38-foot crest would require a major mobilization, and no matter what flood fighters did, damage along the river’s in-town course would be severe. Not so in 2013 because of the perennially focused efforts of city officials, and the informed willingness of Fargo and Cass County residents to support special taxes to fund flood control projects.

So far, the investment has delivered what was promised.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.