Remembering the Grand Forks Flood Part 4: Fighting future floods

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - In 1997 the city of Grand Forks used 3.5 million sandbags to fight the Red River. It wasn't enough and after dikes gave way; water covered the city for miles. After that permanent flood protection became a top priority for the city. Now, other areas along the waterway are trying to do the same.

Grand Forks had about 50 feet of flood protection in 1997, but the river crested at 54 and went over the top of the levees. Now, the city is protected from a 300 to 500 -year flood, Fargo and Moorhead are looking to do the same.

Life in the Red River Valley means dealing with flooding, almost every year.

"People start to get flood fatigue, just they, they wear out and it's too much on them and we've had people have health issues, different things happening and they'll say Tim it's because of the flood," said Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney.

The 1997 Grand Forks flood still brings back vivid memories.

"It's just surreal to think of this river behind us, as you say, not just filling up this basin, but spreading out two to three miles away from the shores filling basements, virtually every basement in this community," said Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks.

After the flood brought the city to its knees, part of the recovery included permanent flood protection.

"Right away, especially because it was top of mind and headlines all over the world you started on saying how can we permanently protect the city and community of Grand Forks," said former Gov. Ed Schafer.

Grand Forks partnered with the federal government to protect their city from future floods. Other areas like Fargo/Moorhead have struggled to find a solution that works for them.

"We're a little nervous, because we had a flood in '97 we had a flood in 2009, several after that and we're about due for another wet year. So, it's a little nervous; are we going to get this done quick enough?" said Mahoney.

There's 22 miles of permanent levees in Fargo, but that still leaves several miles of emergency flood protection and plenty of worry about what would happen if 1997 would repeat itself.

"I would fear that the gaps that we have would break through," said Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams.

Mahoney says the state and city have contributed their share of the costs, but the federal government is dragging its feet. Citizens in the valley just want peace of mind.

In Grand Forks, residents now have that.

The Fargo-Moorhead diversion flood protection program is estimated to cost $2.2 billion with half the money coming from local sales tax initiatives.