High-Tech Flood Forecasts to Aid Midwest’s Red River Valley

November 13, 2009

High-tech mapping technology used to help Fargo-Moorhead, N.D., residents fight a record-setting flood last spring will be made available to the entire Red River Valley.

The high-resolution elevation data, known as Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, should be accurate to within inches instead of within feet as under earlier measurements, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said.

“If ever there’s a place in the country where there’s chronic and significant flooding issues, it is the Red River Valley,” Dorgan said. “And the more tools we have with which to address this, the better.”

Last year’s Red River flood led to a massive sandbagging effort and forced some residents out of their homes. The area held off two river crests over a record 61 days of flooding.

The flood forecasting Web site that offers the mapping technology received more than 65,000 visitors in April, said Chuck Fritz, director of the Fargo-based International Water Institute.

“These data were used extensively during this spring’s flood,” said Fritz, whose institute runs the site.

The Web site, the Red River Basin Decision Information Network, will include a sandbag calculator to help property owners determine the size of their dikes and the number of sandbags needed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using the technology to help determine the affordability of proposed diversion channels in Minnesota and North Dakota and other permanent flood-protection projects in the area.

“A diversion in Fargo-Moorhead may reduce flood damage in Fargo or Moorhead, but it doesn’t solve the flooding issue across the entire basin,” Fritz said. “We need to remember that.”

Dorgan said a bill signed by President Barack Obama last week provides $750,000 over the next two years for the so-called Red River Basin Mapping Initiative, which aims to develop a high-resolution digital map for the region using LiDAR.

Some of the technology’s applications have yet to be discovered, Fritz said.

“We will be developing other tools,” Fritz said. “I can’t really explain to you what they’ll be yet, because we don’t know.”

On the Net: Red River Basin Decision Information Network: www.rrbdin.org/

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