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Scientific experts praise Grand Forks for flood-mitigation efforts

The actions Grand Forks and East Grand Forks took after the Flood of 1997 offer a perfect case study of how to mitigate future damages in the wake of more frequent flooding and severe weather events, a panel of scientific experts said Wednesday.

The actions Grand Forks and East Grand Forks took after the Flood of 1997 offer a perfect case study of how to mitigate future damages in the wake of more frequent flooding and severe weather events, a panel of scientific experts said Wednesday.

By giving the Red River more room -- buying out homes in the flood plain, converting flood-prone land to green space and constructing grass-covered levees farther away from the river -- the two cities charted a course riverfront communities across the country could learn from, the panel said.

"I think the Grand Forks example is one of the shining examples across the country of setting back levees to give the floods the room they need to convey," David Conrad, senior resource specialist for the National Wildlife Federation, said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters from across the country.

"Grand Forks has reaped the benefits of these investments," said Amanda Staudt, climate scientist for the federation. "None of the recent floods have caused any damage."

Wednesday's conference call coincided with the release of a new National Wildlife Federation report, "Increased Flooding Risk: Global Warming's Wake-Up Call for Riverfront Communities."

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Also part of the panel was Will Gosnold, chairman of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at UND, and Wayne Gieselman, administrator of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Services Division.

Fifth in a series

According to Staudt, Wednesday's report is the fifth in a series of documents the federation has compiled to "connect the dots" between global warming and extreme weather events.

"If it seems like the U.S. is getting more heavy storms and major floods, it's because we are," she said, citing January floods in the Pacific Northwest and severe spring flooding along the Red River.

Staudt said the trends suggest climate change is at least partly to blame. As average temperatures rise, the warmer air holds more moisture, which in turn increases the risk of heavy rain and floods.

"What we're seeing is fewer drizzle events and more heavy rain events," Staudt said. "Longer dry events interspersed with heavier rainfall events."

That means bigger floods, she said.

"We need to make better choices about how we manage the landscape of these flood-prone areas," Staudt said.

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Red River example

After the Flood of 1997, Gosnold said he and three colleagues looked at the recurrence of floods along the Red River as far back as the 1800s.

Gosnold said the 1800s were wet and cool, overall, while the period from the early 1900s to the 1930s was dry and warm. Since then, he said, the climate has become hotter and wetter.

The models didn't even consider the impact of climate or changes in land use on flood frequency, Gosnold said.

"Here we go again this year and get the third-highest flood ever recorded at the Grand Forks gauge and the highest ever at the Fargo gauge," Gosnold said. "It's very clear that if Grand Forks had not taken steps to move dikes back, open up all that green space and moved houses out, we would have been destroyed again.

"It's due very much to changing climate, how precipitation has increased, how snow has increased etc., and that's where we are now."

Conrad, the federation's resource specialist, said Congress and the Obama administration "need to move the nation away from policies of development in flood plains and leaving people vulnerable to catastrophic flood."

On the Web:

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To see the full report, go to www.nwf.org/news

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: 2009 FLOOD1997 FLOOD
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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