Residents of Fargo turned their attention Wednesday to cleaning up and protecting against future floods as the Red River began its slow descent from a crest that came in well below early projections.
The Red appeared to hit its peak at 33.27 feet early in the day, spilling from its banks but well short of the 38-foot territory that begins to seriously stress defenses in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., home to a combined 200,000 people.
With the river starting a slow decline, a public meeting at Fargo City Hall focused mainly on future flood prevention efforts. Fargo wants a diversion channel that would steer much of the Red around the city, but its nearly $2 billion price tag and resistance from some downstream interests have slowed the project.
"There's good news here obviously in terms of the crest level, but we simply can't afford to rise to the challenge, so to say, every single year," Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. "We should have a permanent solution in place and that's what we're here to talk about."
Klobuchar, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined other officials in a bus tour of the area after the meeting.
National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust says the river level is expected to slowly decline over the next few days and drop below major flood stage of 30 feet early Sunday. Fargo officials planned to map out sandbag pickup and other cleanup details in a couple of days. Moorhead is collecting sandbags on Friday.
It was the fourth major flood fight in five years, beginning with a record crest in 2009. Fargo has spent about $2 million to build clay levees and sandbag dikes. Volunteers filled more than 1.5 million sandbags, but only about 100,000 bags were deployed.
Keith Berndt, Cass County administrator, said Wednesday that overland flooding typically seen as water works its way to area streams and ditches is "virtually nonexistent," and all the levees in the county are dry. He said most rural residents left the delivered sandbags on palettes.
"Most people waited and waited and as it got better and better it was good news they didn't have to put those down," Berndt said.
Darrell Vanyo, a Cass County commissioner and chairman of the Diversion Authority, said officials had to deal with the best information they had as it came to crunch time.
"We prepare and in hindsight sometimes people accuse us of over-preparing," Vanyo said. "Preparedness would be a moot point if we had a diversion, at least for these types of events."