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Eastern North Dakota prepares for spring floods

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Eastern North Dakota prepares for spring floods
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

FARGO -- Communities along the North Dakota's Sheyenne River are organizing their efforts to battle another spring flood, but the feeling among many city leaders so far is more relaxed than concerned.

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But that sentiment could change in the weeks ahead depending on Mother Nature's whims for the spring thaw.

The Sheyenne River flows south from Devils Lake through Valley City and Lisbon before turning north through communities west of Fargo.

The Sheyenne ultimately pours into the Red River north of Harwood.

Early forecasts from the National Weather Service indicate communities along the Sheyenne should expect water levels near or above major flood stage this spring.

West Fargo and Horace have the highest probability for a major flood, with forecasts predicting a 90 percent chance of water levels greater than major flood stage.

However, those cities are arguably the most insulated among others in the river basin because of the Sheyenne Diversion.

In general, though, most city leaders throughout the Sheyenne River Basin say they're preparing for an event similar to 2009 -- when water levels reached record heights.

Sandbags and other equipment are being readied in advance of another flood fight.

Several cities, like Harwood and Kindred, have approved emergency declarations, which will allow flood-related costs to qualify for FEMA reimbursements.

"We're crossing our fingers for a nice, slow melt," Horace Mayor Shane Walloch said, echoing the sentiment of many other leaders in the region.

Valley City already has 125,000 sandbags on hand -- protection the city purchased last spring but didn't need during what amounted to a relatively anti-climactic flood.

Downstream from Valley City, communities are routinely plagued by overland flooding from the Sheyenne, since its riverbank is naturally higher than surrounding land.

Once water spills over the top, there's nothing to stop it from spreading across miles of farmland.

The city of Kindred, about 20 miles southwest of Fargo, is typically spared from flood problems due to a natural bend in the river.

However, rural Kindred residents aren't so lucky.

"The overland flooding is going to be more of a concern," Kindred City Auditor Twila Morrison said. "The city is normally well-protected, so our focus is to help our rural residents."

Kindred will set up sandbag operations to assist residents who need help protecting their homes.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he's concerned about the rumor mill each year that seems to infiltrate the town with false tales of the diversion failing.

The Sheyenne Diversion has not failed in its nearly 20-year history.

"The idea is to be ahead of the game," Mattern said during a recent city commission discussion on flood preparations.

West Fargo plans to use the Internet, along with "spring melt" meetings, to keep residents informed.

Dates for West Fargo's meetings have not yet been scheduled. Other community meetings are expected throughout the valley.

For instance, state and federal officials will meet with Kindred residents at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Kindred High School.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the North Dakota State Water Commission and the National Weather Service plan to brief residents about flood preparations, the 2011 outlook and potential impacts for the Sheyenne River from Devils Lake, which sits upstream.

Devils Lake has risen 29 feet since 1993 and is about six feet from naturally overflowing -- a potentially catastrophic event, which would affect communities downstream.

This spring, Devils Lake has an 80 percent chance of rising to 1454.5 feet. The natural spillover into Tolna Coulee would occur at 1458 feet.

Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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