Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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State COs assist in flooding zone

Fort Ripley, Minn. – Flood waters may have been retreating in
the flood-ravaged Red River Valley near Fargo-Moorhead this week,
but members of the Minnesota DNR – among them, about 50
conservation officers – remained ready to assist with anything from
resident rescue to levee monitoring.

Roger Tietz, DNR Enforcement operations support manager at Camp
Ripley, said COs, some of whom have been in the area for more than
a week, would remain in place until the dangers associated with the
unprecedented flood event had passed.

Heavy snow was falling earlier this week, and storm-whipped wind
was driving waters into the miles of levees constructed in the
flood zone, possibly weakening the structures and placing homes and
businesses behind them in peril, officials on the scene said.

Conservation officers in some areas of the state are equipped
with airboats or boats with jet-drive systems (RiverPros), both of
which have been heavily utilized in the Red River Valley, according
to Tietz. Many of the rigs were bought with federal enforcement
funds, he said.

“They appear to be paying off right now,” Tietz said.

According to Rich Sprouse, information officer with DNR
Enforcement, at the flood’s peak last weekend, there were about 50
conservation officers and four Enforcement Division lieutenants in
the flood area.

Tietz said DNR Enforcement personnel were involved with
evacuations, helped deploy deputies to posts that they weren’t able
to reach by vehicle, performed welfare checks of citizens, and
checked levees and lift stations. Much of their duties were
performed along with members of the National Guard and the U.S.
Coast Guard.

What COs typically didn’t do – sandbagging – was left for the
throngs of volunteers who came to the area from other points across
the Midwest and elsewhere.

CO Jim Guida, temporarily assigned to the river valley from the
Nisswa area of central Minnesota, said the officers were involved
with the other duties, and officials in charge wanted the officers
– who have been working 12- to 16-hour shifts – to remain fresh and
ready for emergency response.

Guida said his typical shift ran from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., when he
was relieved by another CO for 12 hours. Some officers, though
“have been working non-stop, 16-hour days,” he said.

An unexpected element of working in the flood-torn area was that
of counselor, Guida said. “This will be a stronger community
because of this (flooding), but (residents) right now are
frustrated.”

Guida said some COs had been sent to other areas of the Red
River Valley where flooding was occurring to varying degrees.

Tietz said he was uncertain for how long COs from the DNR would
remain in the flooded area of the valley. The Red had receded in
the Fargo area as of Monday to 39.2 feet, less than record highs
set earlier, but was still nearly 22 feet above flood stage.
Further, about a foot of snow was expected in the area. Schools and
businesses remained closed.

While officials say they have limited the damage to a small
number of homes within Fargo’s city limits, several outlying rural
areas have seen significant flooding. Cass County sheriff’s
deputies toured some of these areas last Sunday in giant National
Guard vehicles, offering assistance to stranded residents.

They encountered a woman whose prescription drugs were about to
run out, people who trudged out of their homes in waders, and a
couple who gladly got a lift out of the neighborhood on the Guard
truck. All the while, huge sheets of ice floated over people’s
yards, and lawn furniture and children’s toys could be seen stacked
up behind sandbag lines.

The flood was caused by a large winter snowfall that melted and
combined with more precipitation to send the river to record
levels. The river flows from south to north through the tabletop
terrain of North Dakota, providing few opportunities to drain.

“The place is so flat,” John Gulliver, a professor of civil
engineering at the University of Minnesota, told the Associated
Press. “It is totally flat so there’s really no place for the water
to go because it can’t leave that quickly. So it just keeps backing
up like a bathtub with a slow drain.”

Guida said conservation officers were happy to help in the
flooded area, but were eager to return home.

“The hardest thing for some of the COs is being away from their
family and neglecting their station,” he said. “But it’s a small
sacrifice for us, when people here are losing their homes.”

According to information from the DNR’s web site, several
divisions within the department respond to flood events. Division
of Waters hydrologists provide local officials with technical
information in planning for the flood; the floodplain unit provides
information, training, and assistance to local units of government
regarding floodplain ordinance compliance and flood hazard
mitigation.

The Division of Forestry helps coordinate emergency response;
the Division of Parks and Trails informs the public about trail and
park closures; and both the Fish and Wildlife, and Ecological
Resources divisions work to assess impact on natural resources, and
lead mitigation and restoration efforts when flood water
recede.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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