Red River tops flood stage in Grand Forks; city, county taking precautionary flooding measures
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The Red River topped flood stage this morning in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
At 11 a.m., the National Weather Service reported the Red River was at 28.81 feet, just higher than the flood stage of 28 feet.
The 27-foot level is called the action stage, one in which city officials and workers begin to prepare for flooding.
"We've got a long check list of thing that we have to do, closing valves, closing gates, things that people won't even notice," said Kevin Dean, Grand Forks public information officer.
On March 5, the weather service forecast the probability of the Red River reaching major flood stage of 46 feet in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks at 73 percent.
Another flood forecast is expected to be released late this morning.
In the meantime, crews were getting planks ready to be placed in the floodwall along the East Grand Forks downtown boardwalk, this morning. The public parking lot behind Whitey's, Applebees and the Blue Moose restaurants was closed.
Grand Forks County crews are monitoring culverts today, looking for rising water at sites where farm fields might be draining faster than culverts are opening up, which can push water levels up to nearly road-high in the corners.
Over the past several days, county highway crews opened up long stretches of ditch, plowing out snow with backhoes so the draining could begin as fields turned from snow-white to dirt-black more and more, according to Gerald Sieg, county assistant superintendent of highways.
Benchmarks are established for certain actions, as the river reaches various levels. However, some of those benchmarks are more of guidelines than strict triggers, according to Dean.
On the Point Bridge, for example, the bridge is to be closed when the river hits 44.9 feet.
"If water is coming up really fast, we might close that bridge at 39 or 40 feet," he said. "If it's coming up really slow, we might close at 42 feet."
Last year, while both cities talked about the possibility of all three bridges connecting them, the Kennedy Bridge on Gateway Drive remained open.
"Hopefully, we won't have to close any bridges this year," Dean said. "Let's hope it's nothing more than an inconvenience."
Here are the action points, or critical observation points:
E 33 feet: Agricultural flooding between Oslo and Grand Forks.
E East Grand Forks water encroaching 4th St underpass of U.S. Highway 2.
E 38 feet: Flood gates are closed in Grand Forks and storm water pumping stations are activated.
E 40 feet: Moderate flood stage. Extensive flooding begins along Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Greenway.
E 41.5 feet: Flood gates on English Coulee are closed, pump station and diversion gates are activated.
E 42 feet: Moderate flood stage. Extensive flooding along greenway for Grand Forks.
E 44.9 feet: Water on East Grand Forks approach to the Point Bridge.
E 45 feet: Sorlie Bridge on DeMers Avenue is closed. This is the top of the elevation of the low level levee protecting Riverside Park.
E 46 feet: Major flood stage.
E 46.2 feet: Water on Demers Avenue at Sorlie Bridge.
E 47 feet: Begin closing BNSF Railroad Bridge, if water is expected to rise to over 50 feet.
E 52.6 feet: Water on Gateway Drive approach to Kennedy Bridge in East Grand Forks.
E 53 feet: Water reaches top of the rails on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Bridge over the Red River.
E 54.4 feet: Record flood level. 22 April 1997.
E 60 feet: Top of levee for Grand Forks-East Grand Forks.
E 63 feet: Top of flood walls in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks.
Kevin Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Fork (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.