VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Water lapped at the bottoms of bridges, covered roads and flooded park space Wednesday, Oct. 16, as the Sheyenne River continued its steady rise closer to flood stage in Valley City.
With the river overflowing its banks, the city has declared a flood emergency and is gearing up for a rare fall flood fight after an October blizzard dumped heavy, wet snow across central North Dakota last week.
It's normal for the city to deal with floods in the spring, but longtime residents said the river's rise is highly unusual for this season.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Lance Peterson, who has lived in Valley City for 56 years. "I've seen snow in October, but I've never seen the river this high."
Mayor Dave Carlsrud said the city is well prepared for a potential flood. Permanent flood walls are already set up around the riverbanks throughout the town. Without them, Carlsrud said the community would have to make more than 270,000 sandbags.
The added flood protection and experienced crew makes the mayor confident the city will be able to face the Sheyenne if flooding gets worse.
"We have a team here who has been through the 2009, 2010 and 2011 floods, and that was without flood walls," he said.
The city already has sump pumps in the water and is having daily meetings to discuss flood plans. On Tuesday afternoon the city expected a 16-foot crest, but as a precaution it is preparing for 18 feet.
As of 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, the National Weather Service expected the Sheyenne River to crest at 14.8 feet early Friday afternoon — though this number could change again depending on conditions. Fifteen feet is the threshold the river must pass to officially enter flood stage. Sixteen feet is a moderate flood and 17 feet is a major flood.
While Wednesday's projections from the weather service don't call for a severe flood, some residents are worried that snow to the north leftover from last week's blizzard could melt and dump more water into the river.
If it melts quickly, much of the runoff will flow through Valley City. On top of that, Carlsrud said even a half-inch of rain could make the flood worse.
"I think we're in for a little bit of a battle," said Peterson, the longtime Valley City resident. "Valley City can do it; there's no question about that. We've done it before — just not in the middle of October."