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Cass County, Fargo teaming up to fight potential 2019 flood

FARGO — Cass County and Fargo are expecting to fight potential flooding on different fronts, but local leaders plan to work together to win the battle, officials said Monday, March 25.

In a roundtable-style meeting, the city hosted county leaders and an array of officials from local and state entities, including the North Dakota Army National Guard and law enforcement, to discuss the roles of everyone involved. Cass County and Fargo will have different locations for filling sandbags, but the two entities will help each other if needed, Mayor Tim Mahoney said.

“As we get further into the flood fight, if there is something needed or wanted and one entity can provide it, it will be provided,” he said.

RELATED: Click here for more coverage of the potential 2019 flood

The National Weather Service has said the Red River Valley is almost guaranteed to see moderate to major flooding. There is a 5 percent chance the Red River in Fargo could break the 2009 record of 40.8 feet.

The county and city will start sandbagging operations this week in anticipation of flooding. Fargo plans to produce a million sandbags to be prepared for the 10 percent chance the Red will reach 40.3 feet, City Administrator Bruce Grubb said.

“If the flood forecast drops, it’s far easier to ramp down than it is to try to ramp up when suddenly time is your enemy as well,” he said.

The Red River, still ice-covered in stretches, likely won’t fully break open here this week as freezing temperatures continue to delay a spring thaw, weather service meteorologist Greg Gust said. Fargo could see warmer temperatures by midweek, but the thermometer is set to fall back below 32 degrees by Friday, shutting down chances the Red River will open up fully, he said.

“We’re slowly working that water in, slowly working things loose, but it is not yet pushing that,” he said, adding that the Red needs 60 to 100 hours of above-freezing temperatures to fully break open.

The spring thaw is about a week behind, Gust said. The slow thaw has slowed flooding potential, but a later melt can set the stage for spring rain to compound flood problems, he said. Projections peg the river reaching its crest in mid-April.

Little precipitation is in the forecast, and models favor a cooler- and drier-than-normal April, the weather service said.

Tributaries and other rivers in the far southern Red River Valley and west-central Minnesota have started to melt and open up, but most in the region still are iced-covered, according to the weather service.

When rivers start to open up in Cass County, rural residents likely will see overland flooding from different tributaries and runoff. The Sheyenne River corridor, particularly north of West Fargo into the Harwood and Argusville areas, will be most vulnerable to flooding, County Engineer Jason Benson said. The county expects Sheyenne River levels will reach 2009 and 2011 levels, he added.

“That’s very large, widespread overland flooding with a lot of sections of land covered,” he said. “That will cut off access to a lot of rural residents as well.”

He advised rural residents to think about not only flood protection but what they also will need if they are stranded at home.

Fargo plans to start filling sandbags Tuesday, March 26, and Cass County will start filling 300,000 sandbags starting Wednesday, March 27. Mahoney repeated his call to not be complacent, recalling the 2009 flood that forced the city to scramble to save residents.

“We don’t want to have that chaos. We want to have this (be) an orderly flood fight,” he said.

The city’s Sandbag Central will run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting Tuesday and ending when it reaches its goal. Fargo leaders anticipate that will take 10 days.

Cass County will run its operations 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.

The county will host meetings this week with residents to discuss the impacts of countywide flooding.

The city will invite the public to two meetings: April 1 at the Fargodome and April 2 at Centennial Elementary School. Both meetings will have an open house at 6:30 p.m., with presentations at 7 p.m.