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Rivers pushed to near 1997 levels

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Fargo,North Dakota 58102
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Rivers pushed to near 1997 levels
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

Community leaders were forced to quickly spring into action last week when rising rivers sent water into neighborhoods around the West Fargo area, including an area in between Harwood and West Fargo, one of the hardest hit areas for this flood.


Fargo led the way, declaring an emergency situation on Wednesday night as flood projections were pushed above 2001 spring stage, a year that saw major flooding along the river banks but no real structural damage. By Sunday, levels for the Red River in Fargo were expected to hit 37.5 feet, about two feet under what occurred in the 100-year flood in 1997.

Cass County officials followed suit with an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon, also issuing a state of emergency.

Together, those declarations put into action an Emergency Operations Center, funded by the state to keep local and state officials in contact with one another.

Rivers began to run wild as early as Thursday afternoon, when the Maple River and Wild Rice began to spill their banks south of the West Fargo/Horace area. More water from the Sheyenne River has been moved into the citys diversion, once again protecting the western half of West Fargo, an area that would have been inundated with waters from that waterway, which crested on Monday afternoon.

In Mapleton, city officials again took evasive action against the Maple River, which last poured out over its banks last June after more than 7 inches of rain flooded the Valley region. This time, icy waters moved through the Maple River Golf Course once again, and homes set up protection against overland flooding.

The National Weather Service issued flood watches early last week and then increased those to flood warnings as water levels were projected to spike. And spike they did. The Maple River, for example, moved from a level of 896 feet above sea level on Wednesday to about 910 feet measured Sunday morning.

Thats higher than last summers waters, which crept to the top of the dikes running through the Maple River Golf Course. Its the highest recorded level for the river, however, 1997 levels were never recorded at Mapleton due to instrument malfunctions.

The Maple is expected to move back into basic flood stage, according to the National Weather Service, later this week, and wont be back below flood stage until early next week. But the river had shown signs of dropping as early as Monday morning.

The Sheyennes crest, meanwhile, was expected to hit late Monday afternoon, and to hold through most of this week. Again, near record waters were expected to hit the river north of West Fargo, where the diversion and the main artery of the river rejoin.

Projections issued Friday had the river rising above 2001 levels, or more than 891 feet above sea level. The National Weather Service Friday predicted a crest on late Monday of 891.8 feet, surpassing 2001 and nearing 1997s record level of 892.02 feet.

The Rush River and the Maple are sending a lot of water this way, Jerry Barnum, principal at Harwood Elementary said. People who were dry Sunday night were under on Monday.

The longevity of the flood might be another big problem. With rain forecast for Thursday and Friday, rivers arent supposed to recede anytime soon. That means the dikes and sandbags put in place to stop encroaching waters will have to be monitored through at least next week.

Just because the crest arrives on Wednesday morning doesnt mean the time for concern is over, Fargo Operations Director Dennis Walaker said. I think the major issue is the water in the tributaries, and the tributaries, like the Sheyenne and the Maple wont go down until the Red finally goes down a little bit. That should start later this week.

Rain, Walaker said, would prolong that crest, also keeping area officials on their toes.

Normally the river will go down in about half the speed that it rises, and this has been a dramatic rise, he said. Its hard to believe that we wont be contending with this for two or three more days longer than they are projecting.

Snow and ice that had packed the Red River Valley since November of last year are the main culprits for this years flood, but an inch to an inch and a half of rain received Friday didnt help matters.

The National Weather Service estimated snow and ice pack in the Valley to hold 5 to 10 inches in most of the region, and warm temperatures during the day and at night created a constant melt, creating overland flooding and eventual river floods.

Its a case where we didnt get the usual melt during the day, freeze at night cycle that we often get, John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for WDAY TV, said. If the snow would have started to melt in early March, when averages during the day are above freezing but average temps at night are below 32 degrees, perhaps we could have avoided this.

Students from Fargo North, Fargo South and Shanley High School in Fargo assisted in the volunteer effort on Monday. West Fargo students were also allowed to excuse themselves from school with a note from parents. Staff there said they were working with students who wanted to help and with students who lived in areas affected by the flood.

Volunteers to help sandbag and with other duties are still needed. Those interested should call First Link at (701) 893-3190.