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Sheyenne Diversion providing protection

West Fargo High School students, along with volunteers, help fill sandbags at the Harwood Community Center Monday afternoon. Carrie Snyder/The Forum

West Fargo officials are confident that the city will remain high and dry in the wake of flood forecasting thanks to the Sheyenne Diversion project and say the diversion is not in any danger of overflowing.

An informational meeting was held Monday night at the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Academy to update a new population of residents now living south of the Interstate on the protection provided by the Diversion channel.

The city is protected by the project that consists of two segments - the Horace to West Fargo project and the West Fargo project itself. The Horace portion intercepts the Sheyenne River on the west side of Horace, with the canal running north to where it connects to the West Fargo project, protecting the city of Horace and the numerous developments south of I-94.

The West Fargo project intercepts the Sheyenne River immediately south of Interstate 94 and runs west approximately 5,000 feet where it connects with the Horace project. From the point of merger of the two canals, one canal continues northwest following the city limits of West Fargo, eventually rejoining the Sheyenne River just north of 12th Avenue Northwest.

After several years of planning and lobbying by a variety of local officials, the diversion project was finally realized in the early 1990s, constructed to protect the city of West Fargo from large overland flood events which typically involve large flows in the Sheyenne River and its tributaries.

The Sheyenne Diversion is protected to 28 feet. During the flood of 1997, the Diversion crested at 23 feet, and since that time the city has added pump stations that will pump two times the capacity of those in place during the '97 flood. As we went to press Tuesday morning the Diversion was sitting close to 18 feet, with a crest of 23 feet expected yesterday (Wednesday).

Officials point out that residents do need to be aware of localized water problems that can occur near and around their homes caused by large rain events and the recent snow melt that can create pooling water and cause infiltration or inflow into window wells or lower level walkouts.

Public Works Director Barry Johnson said that city officials have been proactive in their planning to help keep the community flood free.

This last weekend, crews were kept busy south of town in the McMahon Estates and Nelson Acres areas steaming culverts open so the water drains down. "We are not anticipating any problems," he said. "We've prepared for the ultimate case scenarios, and as of right now, everything is working great," he said.

He said that the biggest threat could result from a lift station going down. "It would be a great thing if residents would take their sump pump lines out of the sanitary sewer and drain them into yards, by doing so placing less stress on the sanitary sewer systems."

Ironically, the deadline for complying with this process, per city ordinance, happens to be coming up appropriately the beginning of April.

When asked about the reports of standing water near Eagle Run, Johnson said the situation in that development is fine. "There are some farm fields with water, it is just snow melt and we are way ahead of that."

Reports that the Sheyenne Diversion was failing and near to overflowing, were also totally unwarranted he said.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said he understands the nervousness, especially in the Eagle Run area, since residents didn't live there to experience the 1997 flood. "There is going to be some consternation, but having said that, as of now, things are going well. We've had some minor glitches with some frozen culverts that needed thawing and some backyard flooding, but overall things are going well. I feel very comfortable based on the way things sit now, but having said that, if Mother Nature decides to throw a big curve ball, there is nothing you can do about it."

In Horace, city officials asked residents to refrain from using water on Sunday, with the city's water supply shut off because the three lift stations couldn't keep up with the amount of water coming into the stations because of the sump pumps.

The water was turned back on again Monday morning when the situation neutralized.

City council member Craig Hakanson said crews have been busy loading sandbags to help a handful of city residents whose window wells filled with water and caused basement flooding. He said more pumps had been brought in to help the situation.

The city is receiving protection from the Sheyenne Diversion and he said for the most part "we are holding our own and doing pretty well, the pumps are all working and we continue to monitor the situation." Horace city officials also asked residents to direct their sump pumps outside instead of pumping them into the sanitary sewer system.

As for sandbagging in general in the surrounding communities and the metro area, West Fargo High School students pitched in in a big way Monday.

Principal Gary Clark said the issue of helping had been talked about last week, and following a Monday morning meeting with Fargo city officials that expressed urgency for assistance with sandbagging, wheels were set in motion to send out three bus loads of students in the morning and another two in the afternoon.

Waivers were received from parents before the 150 students left the high school in the morning to help out in Fargo. In the afternoon, one of the buses was dispatched to Harwood, the other to Fargo, and about a dozen students were sent to a private home near Harwood.

Clark said a number of other students were also out helping, not reporting in the morning but instead going to private locations to help with the approval of their parents.

School was in session Monday, and Clark said the same routine would apply Tuesday, if continuing assistance was warranted.

"It's just like '97, only it takes me back even farther," Clark said. "When I was first a teacher and we didn't have the Diversion, we would let kids out and the teachers would go with them. Having the Diversion changed the nature of things, but we still sent 100s of kids in 1997."

"It was kids working alongside adults that saved the community in 1997. That will no doubt happen again this time. It makes you feel really good that they know it's serious and they are willing to pitch in and help others. We've got a ton of great kids and it doesn't surprise me when they step up to the plate."

Additional information about the flooding situation is available at a variety of local media outlets. To view a map of the Diversion in relation to the city of Horace, West Fargo and Fargo go to: and click on the flood information link.

There is also a link that allows you to assess your flood threat by entering your address:

Free, filled sandbags are available for any West Fargo resident needing them at the city's Transfer Station, located at 1620 West Main Ave., from 1 to 4 p.m., the remainder of this week.

Residents with any flood, Sheyenne Diversion, or sandbag related questions are asked to call the West Fargo Public Works Department at 433-5400. This number will be temporarily available 24 hours a day.