Enjoy the spring, but don’t lose focusLast year at this time, the people of the Red River Valley were preparing for major flooding on the Red River and its tributaries.
By: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Jamestown Sun
Last year at this time, the people of the Red River Valley were preparing for major flooding on the Red River and its tributaries. The flood season was shaping up to be a repeat of the two previous years, when the struggle against high water took on epic proportions. Indeed, the crest of 2009 on the Red at Fargo was a high-water record.
But this year, as the first day of spring brought unseasonably warm breezes, the river level was actually dropping, having failed for the first time in a long time to reach the flood stage of 18 feet. By Tuesday, the river was below 17 feet and dropping.
What a change a year makes. What a difference in the atmosphere in Fargo-Moorhead and other river cities. The anxiety that has rattled the region for three years running is nowhere to be found this spring. Instead of sandbag brigades, blocked streets and daily briefings on the status of the flood fight, the golf courses are open, the parks are free of muddy water and the resources of governments can be directed elsewhere.
Nature is always full of surprises, but after three very serious flood years, the dry weather of 2012, which started in fall 2011 and has continued through today, is a startling turnaround. Nearly every river in the Red River Basin is flowing at a level not seen for many years. As the thin snow cover melted early in unseasonably warm weather the past two weeks, road ditches that normally would be full with field runoff merely got a little wet and then drained down.
It’s all good news, because the people of the region were weary after three difficult spring flood fights. The war-zone atmosphere of 2009, ’10 and ’11 was emotionally and financially draining. Not this year.
That being said, a one-year break from high water does not a pattern make. If anything, the recent climate and weather history of the region strongly suggest the current dry period is a blip in a long-term wet pattern.
Comprehensive flood protection efforts that started after 1997 and have been accelerating ever since must not be slowed because residents and policymakers might be lulled into a false sense of safety by one dry season. The sense of urgency that compelled Fargo and other cities to plan, fund and build extensive flood protection projects in the past decade has been vital to the commitment to and focus on flood protection.
The rivers will rise again. Cities and farms and roads will be fighting off high water again. The region has made remarkable progress on flood protection. Even as we enjoy a dry, warm spring, let’s not lose focus.