Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order on Monday, Oct. 21, declaring a statewide flood emergency, paving the way for requests for federal assistance to help North Dakotans deal with significant flooding caused by heavy fall rains and a historic October blizzard.
The statewide disaster declaration was issued as Burgum, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state officials attended meetings Monday with local officials, community members and agricultural producers in Grand Forks, Fargo, Jamestown and Fessenden to hear firsthand about the potentially devastating impacts of the unusually wet weather. They shared information about the state’s response, including gathering information for possible requests for a USDA secretarial disaster designation and a presidential disaster declaration.
There has been unprecedented amounts of water and stress in the area as farmers and ranchers attempt to remove crops from their fields, Burgum said.
“We’re all familiar with flooding,” he said. “We’re all familiar with dealing with water and extreme weather conditions in our state … but what’s new is we have billions of dollars of agricultural crops unharvested. This is an unprecedented amount of economic risk and stress for the farmers and ranchers of North Dakota.”
North Dakota was the wettest state in the nation in September, and October hasn’t been any kinder as rains have continued, mixed with a snowstorm that dumped more than two feet of snow in the Langdon area.
The storms have flooded fields and basements across the region, wreaking havoc on crops that have yet to be harvested and building up 800 tons of disposed debris from homes in the Grand Forks area.
Flooding was reported across Grand Forks in recent days and weeks. City Council member Ken Vein said the city is considering doing a study of the city’s flooded areas to map out where the problem spots were and at what can be done to fix those problems in the future. Burgum likened the study to creating a heat map, “or maybe, in this case, a wet map,” he said.
Eight counties and four cities in North Dakota have issued flood emergency declarations, with more expected. Emergencies have been declared in the counties of Barnes, Cavalier, Grand Forks, LaMoure, Stutsman, Traill, Walsh and Wells and the cities of Grand Forks, Jamestown, LaMoure and Valley City.
A USDA secretarial disaster designation would unlock financial assistance through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Plus Program, or WHIP+. Payments from the program take into account a producer’s crop insurance coverage and the size of the loss. A presidential disaster declaration would include public assistance for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged road infrastructure.
Grand Forks County Sheriff Andy Schneider showed seven minutes of drone video of the flooded areas in the county taken recently. The video showed waterlogged fields and flooded roadways.
Bill Johnson, an area farmer near Manvel who has been in the agriculture business for around 50 years, said “this is a serious issue” that is “unbelievable.”
Farmer stress was also a major topic of discussion during the meeting on Monday.
Goehring emphasized the need for farmers and ranchers to reach out to family, friends or others to help deal with the stresses they are facing.
There are a number of resources available for farmers and ranchers in the state at ag.ndsu.edu/farmranchstress. The statewide suicide prevention hotline, 211, is also available.
North Dakota has led the nation in farm-related suicides in recent years, a statistic Beau Bateman, who farms outside of Grand Forks in the Brenna Township, said the state doesn’t want.
“We have generational farms here,” he said. “We have our daughters and our sons that are back here with us and they play off what dads and moms are showing, who play off what grandfathers are showing. It’s one thing to get a crop out, but the reverberation generationally is another.”
Burgum said there are many challenges facing generational and new farmers alike dealing with this flooding and other issues over the past few years, making the dollar margins thinner for some, but it’s important for people to reach out to one another and take care of each other -- not just in the days and weeks, but the months to come.
“This is something that we actually want to get out and talk about,” Burgum said. “We tend to be stoic here. People want to be the rock for their family, but then they have it bottled up inside. We would just encourage people to talk to someone or if you’re OK and you’re in great shape then reach out and make sure that your neighbors are OK.”
Attendees also spoke about concerns over soft roads and gravel roads. Mold was also a topic of discussion. Cynthia Pic, a Grand Forks County commissioner, said it’s important to educate people about the potential health risks of mold in people's homes that could occur in the coming months.
The city also is considering ways to educate the public about the importance of flood insurance and how that insurance works. The city will likely be conducting free education seminars about flood insurance this winter before any potential spring flooding.