There’s a good chance the Red River will see a historic flood this spring. Mayor Mike Brown earlier this month signed an emergency declaration for the city of Grand Forks, setting the tone for what is likely to come. The declaration is among the first steps needed to be ready if a federal disaster is declared.
“We know an emergency is coming,” the mayor said. “We know that the Red River is going to flood this spring.”
He mentioned it again last week at his annual State of the City address, noting that this spring could bring a Top 5 flood. And if it happens, it will be the third time since 2009 that the Red’s flood crest has been among the five worst in recorded history.
Yet the obelisk that marks history’s top crests hasn’t been updated since it was placed on the Greenway near the Sorlie Bridge two decades ago.
A recent “Glad You Asked” segment – published in Sunday’s Herald – wondered if the obelisk will ever be updated. It’s unlikely, according to city employees who helped answer the question. However, some city employees seem open to the idea of doing something to commemorate high-water marks that have occurred in the years since the obelisk was erected.
The problem is that the obelisk is made of stone and would only have room for a few updates at most. And since the Red already has surpassed many of the marks on the obelisk, it seems it would be unrealistic to carve numerous addendums into the stone. Eventually, we assume, carving into the rock would degrade its integrity, whether structurally, artistically or both.
There are five high-water marks shown on the obelisk, starting with 1996, 1882, 1979, 1897 and – at the top – 1997. By using the 1996 crest of 45.93 feet as the qualifying criteria, there have been five floods in the last decade that conceivably could be carved into the obelisk, including 2006, 2010, 2009, 2011 and 2019.
Adding new data every time a flood reaches historic proportions doesn’t seem feasible. Again, the last decade alone brought five qualifying floods that could be added to the monument. This year hints at another.
In South Dakota, Mount Rushmore memorializes four great presidents, but new presidents will never be added – nor should they be – since it’s a work of art meant to capture sentiment of the era.
The same should be said of the obelisk in the Greenway – it’s a monument to floods up to 1997. Allowing changes now would degrade its original artistic intent and portend unchecked changes and additions in coming decades.
Instead, a better approach is to leave the obelisk alone, but then create a new memorial – perhaps a nearby plaque – to mark for posterity new high-water marks, which seem to be coming with increased regularity.