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Grand Forks, East Grand Forks aren't expecting major flooding, but are preparing for high water nonetheless

The National Weather Service is predicting a minor to moderate flood risk for most of the Red River Valley this spring, including Grand Forks, with the potential for some low major flooding in the southern Red River Valley, as well as near Oslo, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota.

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A drone captures a view of the Sorlie Bridge in downtown Grand Forks on April 10, 2019, when the crest of the Red River reached 47.7 feet. Lee Smalt and Cody Rogness/Click Content Studios

GRAND FORKS — Flood preparation has started in Grand Forks, says Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator. As the National Weather Service predicts a minor to moderate flood risk for the Grand Forks region this spring, the Grand Forks public works and engineering departments had their first meeting of the year last week to start planning for spring flooding.

“We’re kind of getting geared up to start the engineering and public works operational plan of our flood protection project,” he said.

As new forecasts come out over the coming weeks, public works and engineering staff will assess the flood risks and make more detailed plans. Based on early forecasts, flooding looks manageable, said Feland.

The National Weather Service is predicting minor to moderate flood risk for most of the Red River Valley this spring, including Grand Forks, but with potential for some low major flooding in the southern Red River Valley, as well as northern locations like Oslo, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota.

“Any additional kind of heavy snowfall with a lot of liquid water content can always drastically change what the outlook will look like, but we’re currently only looking at low major (flooding) for southern and portions of the northern parts of the Red River Valley,” said Jacob Spender, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

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Spender says right now, the National Weather Service is not predicting more heavy snow in the long-term forecast.

“It’s kind of meandering out to more of a dry spell for this coming week, so after this system is through, it kind of dries out and then the probability drops down for any high-impact system currently,” he said. “But that can always change.”

Based on early predictions, the city of Grand Forks is planning for the river to crest at around 40 feet, but is prepared for changes as more information is available, says Feland.

“We’ll have to see what happens between now and March as we head into the spring,” said Feland.

At Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the Red reaches the minor flooding stage at 28 feet, moderate flooding at 40 feet and major flooding at 46 feet.

The record crest is, of course, the 54.35 feet crest that came during the historic 1997 flood. More recently, it reached 47.7 feet on April 10, 2020, and 46.94 feet on April 11, 2019. Flood mitigation systems were put in place in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks following the 1997 event, decreasing the chance of widespread damaging floods.

Feland said the 40-foot level is manageable by the city of Grand Forks, but will probably require closure of some bridges and parts of the Greenway, as well as activation of flood pump stations.

David Murphy, East Grand Forks city administrator, said East Grand Forks public works and emergency services start making serious preparations each year in early March.

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“The first part of March, we start getting things ready, making sure the barricades we have to put up are ready,” said Murphy. “Then we have everything primed so that if the flood does start to happen, we have everything ready and able to go.”

After preparing early, he says, public works and emergency services are ready for flooding on short notice. While there is more potential for flooding this year than the last two, Murphy says it’s nothing emergency personnel can’t handle.

“As far as this year, it looks moderate, so we’re just going to keep an eye on it, but we’re not overly concerned yet at this point,” he said.

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Drought conditions in the Red River Valley also have improved over the winter. The southern River River Valley is out of the drought, while northern portions are only abnormally dry, the lowest classification of drought on the U.S. drought monitor.

“Looking at all of the snowfalls throughout the season, we are above average in Grand Forks and Fargo, so we’re improving from the drought from last year, and doing better than before last year,” Spender said.

Like flood conditions, drought conditions are impacted by precipitation, and are always changing, said Spender.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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