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Flood diversions keeps some cities dry through spring flooding

The diversion has two pieces — a 3.2 mile bypass channel that redirects water from the Park River around the community during high flow events, and 12 miles of tieback levees that protect Grafton from overland flooding.

Grafton town logo.jpg
A water tower in Grafton, N.D.
(Grand Forks Herald photo)
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GRAFTON, N.D. — The flood diversion in Grafton, North Dakota, is a $48 million success story.

The diversion, completed in 2021, was put to the test for the first time this spring, and Grafton Mayor Chris West said it was “unbelievable” to see it in action.

“We have fought floods for many, many, many years, and we know that it’s stressful and damaging to a community of any size, but we are grateful that we got to see our project work and know that it will protect our community,” said West.

The diversion has two pieces — a 3.2 mile bypass channel that redirects water from the Park River around the community during high flow events, and 12 miles of tieback levees that protect Grafton from overland flooding.

Without the diversion channel, the flood would have been the fourth worst in Grafton’s history, West said. He estimates the flood fight would have cost the city a minimum of $1 million.

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“That’s just what we would expend in fighting the flood and putting up dikes in the community to protect the community, and sandbagging,” he said. “If you’d add up all the man hours from volunteers, employees, and outsiders that come in to help, I don’t know what the dollars would be. It would have to be between ($2-$3 million) event type deal, not including any property damage if you aren’t successful in fighting.”

The diversion in Grafton removes the city from the 100-year floodplain.

Warren, Minnesota, has a similar diversion channel for the Snake River, which was completed in 2007. During wet springs, residents thank former Mayor Dick Nelson for keeping the city dry. The flood diversion in Warren is named after and dedicated to the late mayor, Richard P. Nelson, who pushed for flood protection in Warren. He died in 2006.

“It’s a nice remembrance and legacy to Mayor Nelson, related to the great work he did while he was an elected official for the town,” said current Mayor Mara Hanel.

The diversion in Warren also removed it from the 100-year floodplain.

“It sure feels nice to have your residents and businesses protected this way,” said Hanel. “And growth — it impacts that as people make decisions around starting a business and growing the community a certain way. To not have to talk about flooding is a huge benefit.”

With the potential for more heavy rain Friday night, the mayor said emergency personnel were in the process of recommending others in the city to consider leaving their at-risk homes. The sheriff’s office also advised those who’ve left their homes to avoid returning to them until it is safe to do so, and the public was also asked to stay away from the Randall area so emergency personnel could do their jobs effectively.

Other cities in the region are set to beef up flood risk mitigation measures in the coming years. On May 19, North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $7.65 million contract to HSG Park Joint Venture, LLC to replace the Drayton Dam on the Red River, and will be a part of the region’s permanent flood protection system.

“This award will support an updated dam system near Drayton as we continue advancing comprehensive flood protection for the Red River Valley,” said Hoeven.

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The release from Cramer's office noted that the new dam includes a fish passageway to improve biotic connectivity, in support of the Drayton Dam Fish Passage Mitigation and Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area Flood Risk Management Projects.

Related Topics: FLOODING
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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