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Published April 06 2013

Forum editorial: Volunteers always step up

When Mother Nature permits Ol’ Man Winter to hang around the Northern Plains too long, floods come in slow motion. It feels that way this spring (although Fargo-Moorhead is right on target for an expected crest date on the Red River). Still, it has been a long, cold spring. The cold won’t retreat. The watershed’s snowpack lies deep across the land. The Red and its tributaries are ice-covered. This year seems especially harsh because memories of last March and April are fresh. Remember? Golf courses were open. There was no flood. Grass was greening. Farmers were seeding corn.

In this season’s weather conditions, which are not uncommon (spring 2012 was an anomaly), the urgency of the flood campaign tends to moderate. But the reality is this: Anyone who has lived through the recent record floods in the Red River Valley understands what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done. What sometimes comes off as too casual an attitude toward flood potential is, in fact, a reasonable comfort zone created by years of work that protects Fargo and its environs from flooding better than ever.

That being said, Sandbag Central in Fargo is humming with activity. Opened last week, the spiders (sandbag filling machines) are up and running. Volunteers from all parts of the community turned out. And every day last week the city met or exceeded the goal of 100,000 sandbags per day until a million are in reserve – accomplished with fewer volunteers than the city sought.

Whoa! say the cynics. The community is not stepping up. Flood fatigue is setting in.

Not so. The pattern established in recent years merely is being repeated. The flood is still a forecast, not the frightening reality the region experienced in 1997, 2009 and 2010. As usual, there are “experts” on talk radio and other seats of flood-forecasting wisdom who downplay the potential for a big flood. All that noise contributes to a potentially dangerous letdown of the guard. However, it’s far better to be over-prepared than to be caught with the hip boots down.

More volunteers are needed. It’s hard work, and shifts of volunteers must be replenished with fresh workers. They will turn out. They always do. The spring flood campaign has become an extraordinary coming together for the people of Fargo and other communities. And when it works, as it always has, it is community service at its best.

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