For one Fargo homeowner, the question isn't whether the Red River will crest well above its banks this spring, but how high it will get.
"It's going to flood; it always does," said Beth Dilbeck, who owns a home next to the river north of downtown.
The Red River at Fargo-Moorhead doesn't flood every year, but for area residents, it may seem like it has in recent years. Major floods hit in 2009 and 2010 after 12 years of relative calm.
Dilbeck and about 200 city residents gathered at the Fargo Civic Center Wednesday evening to learn more about the city's plan to prepare for this year's expected spring flooding.
In January, the National Weather Service said there is a 20 percent chance the river will equal the record crest of more than 40 feet of 2009 in Fargo-Moorhead, and a 50 percent chance the river will be higher than the nearly 37 feet it reached in 2010.
Tim Mahoney, deputy mayor of Fargo, said the city hopes to avoid the mad rush to fill sandbags that happened in previous flood fights.
"In the flood fight of 2009, we did 3.5 million sandbags in nine days," Mahoney said. "What we are trying to do is try to get ahead of that this time and have people start to get things ready for us in preparation."
Fewer sandbags will be required this time around, after the city constructed permanent flood protection walls in key spots. Mahoney said the current plan is to fill 3 million sandbags.
City officials have identified and created protection plans for at-risk areas near the river. They are dividing the city into 13 districts, each of which will have a coordinator to manage flood fight efforts.
April Walker, Fargo's senior engineer, said the city coordinates the buying, filling and delivering of sandbags to neighborhoods. The city also provides patrolling of levees once constructed.
Residents have responsibilities too, Walker said.
She advised homeowners to:
- Organize as a neighborhood and provide the city with points of contact.
- Prepare property by removing decks, gazebos, fencing and other objects that could interfere with sandbagging.
- Assist volunteers and city staff with construction of levees and sandbag walls.
- Repair sandbag walls as they break and help with pumping leaked water.
- Secure pets.
- Be safe, as heavy equipment will be moving through neighborhoods.
Walker said residents on the front line of the river should also fill out and return to the city a right-of-entry form. The form allows city employees, equipment and emergency workers to access private property when needed.
April Cox and her husband Shannon Dennis recently moved into a home eight blocks from the river. They have both fought floods in Fargo-Moorhead in recent years, but Cox said she's worried about what is going to happen once the melt starts. She said this year's fight is going to be more personal.
"Hopefully other people who don't own homes will help us, just as we did last year," she said.
Still, Dennis said, they knew the risks when they bought the home, but said that was the neighborhood they wanted to be in regardless of the risks.
"It's just the area we fell in love with," he said.
He's worried too, but thinks the crest won't beat 2009 and only might top last year's water levels.
"That's just what my gut tells me," he said.