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Patrick Springer, Published December 06 2013

Red River flood stages at Wahpeton-Breckenridge to rise by 1 foot

FARGO – Flood stages on the Red River in Wahpeton-Breckenridge will go up by 1 foot to reflect better permanent flood protection measures.

The change, slated to take effect Dec. 23, was initiated by the National Weather Service and has the approval of local emergency managers.

The revision means a minor flood will start at 11 feet, instead of 10 feet, a moderate flood begins at 13 feet, instead of 12 feet, and a major flood is signified by a level of 15 feet, instead of 14 feet.

Better flood protection, including a diversion channel, levees and floodwalls, mean the two towns are less threatened and have less preparation for floods, officials said.

“I don’t see that that’s going to be any problem,” Dennis Miranowski, public works director for the city of Wahpeton, said Friday. “It’s pretty much a non-issue.”

Mike Lukes, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the higher flood stages mean flood forecasts will be triggered at higher levels.

Before proposing the change, the weather service contacted local officials as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Geological Survey, Lukes said.

A river a foot below minor flood stage signifies the action level, triggering river forecasts and alerting officials and property owners.

Both Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minn., now have permanent flood protection to a level of 21 feet.

Also, a diversion channel that carries water from the Otter Tail River to the Red River downstream from Wahpeton-Breckenridge lowers crests by an estimated foot.

“That takes a lot of the pressure off the twin towns,” said Breanna Koval, emergency management director for Wilkin County, which includes Breckenridge.

Now, dealing with a major flood of 14 or 15 feet is largely a matter of routine, “Ten years ago, that was a huge deal,” she said.

“So I don’t know if people will notice the change,” Koval added. “It’s more of a paper change.”

Flood stages on the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead, revised in 2006, are not slated to change. They remain 18 feet for the start of minor flooding, 25 feet for moderate flooding, and 30 feet for major flooding.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522