Pretend we could hit a reset button and resettle America.
Armed with hundreds of years of data geological and meteorological, is there any chance we would inhabit anywhere nearby the Red River Valley again?
As one Daily Kos blogger recently pointed out, in the Fargo-Moorhead area, four of the seven worst floods on record have occurred in the past seven years. The National Weather Service is predicting major flooding this year, with the flood peaking at around 38-41 feet. For context, anything above 30 feet is considered major flooding. That mark would be good (bad?) enough for fifth-worst all-time in the area, making it the fourth major flood event in the past five years.
It raises a difficult, but important question: Is this a trend or a coincidence? If it’s the former, it’s time for some difficult conversations about relocation.
Let’s look at some of the factors that contribute to flooding along the Red River Valley:
- The surrounding land is flat. Very flat. Parts of the valley used to be a glacial basin.
- There really is no “valley” to act as a natural levee. When the water breaches flood level, it simply flows everywhere.
- The river flows north, meaning melting snow along southern parts of the river can run into ice dams in colder parts of the Upper Midwest.
- If snow melts too slow or too fast, it becomes a flood threat.
The land isn’t going to change. Valleys will not magically appear. The river will not change course and flow south. Snow will continue to melt at its own pace. So, in all likelihood, the Red River Valley will continue to flood year after year.
Not only is that a major pain for people who live along the river; it’s a burden for taxpayers who fund state and federal relief. According to report prepared by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, the 2011 flood — which peaked at 38.81 feet — cost more than $1.4 billion in relief.
Don’t get me wrong: That’s money well spent. But at what point does it become evident nature no longer allows us to enjoy a quality of life along the Red River Valley? If we were to start the country all over again from scratch, would we really develop major (OK, modest) population centers around areas known for major flooding annually?
[Stay strong, Red River Valley residents. Here's hoping you stay high and dry.]