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Spring Flood Risk Worsens For Red River Valley

Farmers in the Red River Valley are bracing for one of the worst spring floods on record after heavy snow this week.

The river runs north from the northern states of North Dakota and Minnesota into the Canadian province of Manitoba.

The U. S. National Weather Service upgraded March 13 the flood potential in the valley to account for between five and 10 inches of snow March 10 in North Dakota.

“The magni tude of the expected flooding has not been seen in several years at many of the locations across the Red River basin,” the weather service said in its outlook for the Red River as well as its U. S. tributaries and Devils Lake. “Residents should be preparing for the threat of major and near-record flooding.”

Overland flooding is also likely for places not near a river, the outlook said.

The weather service forecasts melting to start later than usual, with heavy rains in spring.

Those conditions, combined with high soil moisture in fall, have farmers grimly recalling spring 1997, the worst flood year on record, said Roger Johnson, agriculture commissioner for the North Dakota government.

“I don’t know anyone who wants a repeat of spring 1997,” Johnson said. “It was very traumatic, very difficult for everyone.”

Flooding prevented thousands of farmers in North Dakota alone from planting hundreds of thousands of acres, Johnson said.

Farmers grow mainly corn and soybeans on the U. S. side of the valley as well as significant acres of spring wheat. Many were hoping for a dry spring to allow harvesting of large areas of corn and sunflowers that couldn’t be combined in fall.

Manitoba’s flood forecaster, Alf Warkentin, said the outlook for southern areas of the province had worsened, but a revised flood forecast will not be ready until next week. The province’s largest city, Winnipeg, is protected by a flood channel around it.

The Canadian Wheat Board said last week it was clearing space in southern Manitoba elevators so 400 farmers can deliver their grain before spring thaw.

Two of North Dakota’s largest cities, Fargo and Grand Forks face “near 100 per cent” chance of major flooding, the weather service said. In 1997, much of Grand Forks was evacuated, but it has since built a $417 million flood protection system.

There is some reason for optimism, Johnson said. The flat Red River Valley can drain quickly and create seeding conditions in a hurry, he said.

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