Story published: April 2019

Moorhead is no stranger to grappling with flooding waters. The city’s worst flood was in 2009 when the Red River crested to 41 feet, though another two years of severe flooding followed. This year, the crest reached a high of 35 feet – still enough to crack into Moorhead’s 10 top flood events.

The city was also much more prepared than it was a decade ago. To date, the state and city have kicked in $110 million for mitigation projects such as building clay levees, retaining walls and stormwater pumps. More than 260 riverfront homes have also been removed from danger in voluntary homeowner buyouts.

“My husband and I purchased our house in 2007 on the river,” Jade Rosenfeldt, an attorney, said about her former $200,000 rambler in south Moorhead. “It was a beautiful house and had just this lovely river backyard.”

But two years later, the home flooded, despite sandbagging efforts and all-night vigils. Rosenfeldt said they were eager to take a buyout.

“I thought there’s no way we’d ever sell that house. I thought we’d be stuck with it for a long time,” she said.

But city officials say the mitigation efforts to date only protect for a 100-year flood. A $2.75 billion diversion project in Fargo and Moorhead appears poised to protect the two cities for another 100 years or more.

“In simple terms, it’s a large ditch, built on the North Dakota side,” City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said. “That when the river gets high, it would divert a portion of the Red River around the metro area.”

However, the project is controversial. While alleviating risk in some areas, it may cause flooding in others. Earlier this month, a federal judge lifted a stop-work order on the project. The injunction was originally issued in 2017 after Minnesota regulators failed to issue the necessary permits. But local officials revised the permit request and got conditional approval.

“It’s a large project,” Zimmerman said of the two-state regulatory process. “So it’s been a challenge to work through all of that.”

And he said there’s still much more work to do.


Check out our collection of One Greater Minnesota stories.

Discover more about some of the epic floods that have plagues Minnesota in Explore the Worst Floods in Minnesota History.

Ramp up your trivia knowledge of powerful weather systems that have impacted our great state by watching the documentary Minnesota’s Deadliest Tornadoes & Fiercest Floods.