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Fargo's new anti-flood system likely to have minimal impact on Grand Forks

The Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project, with a roughly $3 billion budget and an operational date projected for 2027, will create a channel for sending floodwaters around the west side of Fargo and onward north.

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This is a rendering of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion's dam inlet structure near Horace, N.D., looking downstream. The inlet controls the flow of water from the dam into the diversion channel to reduce impact on downstream communities. Special to Forum News Service
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks this month is marking the 25th anniversary of the Flood of 1997, with a quarter-century having passed since the fire and flames that remade the city.

Just a short trip south, the Fargo metro area is deep into plans to make sure something like that never happens there. The Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project, with a roughly $3 billion budget and an operational date projected for 2027, will create a channel for sending floodwaters around the west side of Fargo and onward north, toward Grand Forks — building a future that, hopefully, avoids the fate that Grand Forks met 25 years ago .

But the Red River water that passes Fargo flows past Grand Forks, too. So what does the project mean for the city up north?

Not too much, Grand Forks leaders say. Joel Paulsen, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Metro Flood Diversion Authority, said that any Fargo flood mitigation effects on Grand Forks will be minimal. When the channel is active during an imagined once-in-a-century flood, he said, the Red River at Drayton is predicted to rise about 0.05 feet — less than an inch.

That’s a trivial amount that won’t likely be detected without special instruments. But it’s a reminder that the river is fully interconnected. What affects one community is meaningful for another.

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The diversion project has been in the works since Grand Forks’ 1997 flood, when exploration for a regional flood-prevention system began. That need was underscored by a 2009 flood in the Fargo-Moorhead area that crested at nearly 41 feet; volunteer sandbagging saved a significant portion of properties, but not all.

Al Grasser, Grand Forks’ city engineer, points out that the simulated flood conditions that would create that minimal boost in water level is just that — a simulation, and the reality will likely differ. Just like no family has 1.5 children, he said, the city can’t count on an average flood. It has to expect the unexpected.

But, he said, Grand Forks has no specific concerns about the project.

“Perhaps some of it is me by nature being cautious,” Grasser said. “In and of itself, the diversion, we don’t have any specific items that we can point to that of a specific concern.

Related Topics: 1997 FLOOD
Sam Easter is a Michigan-based freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he returned to Michigan and began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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