Looking ahead


If you’re not from flood country and you know how much work people like John Brummer of Moorhead have put into protecting their homes from the Red River, you might be tempted to look at the situation as I did last evening and say, “what a shame, the water never reached your sandbag dike.” And if you’re like me, you’d actually say something like that, just to enjoy the look on his face.

Brummer could be a professor of floodology, after battling the Red River for three consecutive springs, two of which are in the top four crests since 1897.

He’ll proudly point you to three sump pump stations he’s installed in his basement, which have dutifully pumped out the Red River when it looks for ways to get into a home through a rising water table.

How serious a threat is that? The area once occupied by a house just up the street on Moorhead’s Riverview Circle provides a good example.


There was, of course, no effort to keep the river out here, but it’s worth noting the river didn’t need to come through the “front door.”

This spot, by the way, is where the dike gave way in the flood of 2009, which I captured on this amateur video at the time.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland finished his flood briefing a few minutes ago, ending with a message to the people in this neighborhood. “How many sandbags have you thrown at this point?” he said. “Maybe next year, rather than having all these sandbags and needing all these volunteers, putting some permanent clay diking around your property might be in order.”

With the water about to recede, that comment should mark the official start of “why do those people live there?” season.

John’s son, who is in the weather business, has an answer. He studied the top crests of the river and found that the area homes were considered safe as long as the river stayed below the 31-32 foot level. He theorizes that many of the homes that have been bought out, moved, or torn down to build a flood wall recently, were built before 1970. Since the flood of 1897, only one other time before 1970, has the Red River exceeded 31 feet (1969).

Since 1970, however, the Red River has crested above 31 feet 13 times.

Many people in the area are waiting for a buyout offer. Selling to someone else seems out of the question — a house across the street from the Brummer’s has been for sale for a year. For many, there’s no real choice but to stay and fight until something can be done somewhere to change the behavior of the river, or until the “wet cycle” ends — if it ends.

Every conversation I’ve heard in the few days I’ve been up here have already considered Voxland’s hypothesis and how a clay dike could be deployed around the homes where the conversation is occurring. Because even before the flood of 2011 ends (the river is projected to crest around 1 p.m. today), residents are already anticipating 2012.

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