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Published January 28, 2012, 08:35 PM

LIVING WITH WATER: Red River Valley Plagued by Flooding Since Settlement

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - After the flood of 1997, a marker was built next the the Red River in Grand Forks to show years of record floods that go back more then one hundred years.

By: David Schwab, WDAZ

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - After the flood of 1997, a marker was built next the the Red River in Grand Forks to show years of record floods that go back more then one hundred years.

"You hear references back in the early settlement times and when the trappers came in, they talk about stories of the spring flood," Grand Forks city engineer Al Grasser said.

Some of the first pictures of flood events are in 1897 which is the second largest on record, though not as severe some of the some of the bigger flood fights took place in 1945, 1950 and 1979.

However the Red does take a rest. In between many of those high water years the river had some of it's lowest recorded levels. In 1977, the Red River was measured at just a tenth of a foot at Grand Forks.

"But when you have that amount of time between an event, maybe you start to forget a little bit," city council president Hal Gershman said.

That hasn't been the case over the last three years. Residents have had to put up with river levels that came close to it, including the flood of 2009.

After 1997, permanent flood protection was built to handle a flood roughly six feet higher than that year's flood.

"I think we got through it because we are strong and we didn't realize how difficult it was going to be. And we just did it," Gershman said.

Gershman says other flood-prone North Dakota cities like Fargo and Minot may have to work harder than Grand Forks for funding a flood project for several reasons. One being the large amount national attention Grand Forks received in '97.

"Their attitude is similar to ours. And the reason we were able to do it in ten years is that we said we would do it in five," Gershman said.

"We just had our situation develop earlier here than the rest and I guess we are fortunate in that respect because we are not out there to compete with everybody else for all those resources trying to complete a plan," Grasser said.

Those smaller communities downstream like Oslo, Drayton, and Pembina for now will deal with future floods like they have done for the past century.

"We have always said that when you in the bottom of the bathtub, you are going to get all of the water. It just seems like we are dealing with it more and more all the time," Pembina public works director Ken Norby said.

Most of the community of Pembina stayed dry in 1997. Norby says the people in town know how to win a flood fight, they have a lot of practice and know what works.

"Then they put that flood wall in in the 70's and stuff. It's worked just like the flood structure that was put in in Grand Forks. It has gotten easier," Norby said.

Norby says smaller towns along the Red River are paying attention to flood protection systems upstream and want to know how they might affect them. But says towns big or small will have to work together because they are all in the same proverbial bathtub.

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