Fargo-Moorhead residents are preparing to clean up the mess created from their third flood fight in a row. Sandbag dikes and temporary earthen levees will start coming down next week.
With the Red River steadily falling, hundreds of homeowners will now have to remove the sandbag dikes from their back yards. The heavy lifting of just a week ago gives way to the back-breaking work it takes to tear it all down.
Some homeowners won't have much cleanup, because they didn't put down any sandbags. Instead they depended on backyard levees to keep the river at bay.
"Mine is a homemade job, and it shows, but it's acceptable," said John Gjevre, as he stands atop an earthen levee that towers nearly eight feet above his backyard patio. A pump spits water seeping through the dike back into the river.
During the 1997 flood he needed 4,500 sandbags to keep the Red river out of his home. That's when he rented a skid steer loader and built his first backyard levee. He raised the levee again two years ago after the record floods.
"I've got about, all told with the brickwork, about $7,000. That's very small compared with the peace of mind it gives you," he said.
Gjevre says the levee protects his home from water levels of 40 feet. The all-time record flood in 2009 was nearly 41 feet. This year, the Red River crested at under 39 feet. Gjevre plans more improvements to his levee.
"I think we would probably like to raise the dike at least a foot and a half," said Gjevre. "Say we had it at 42.5 to 43 feet all the way across, we would be reasonably comfortable."
There are piles of unused sandbags in the street out in front of John Gjevre's home. Gjevre and several of his neighbors did not sandbag this year. He says they were confident if the river went higher, they could quickly add a couple feet of sandbags on their backyard levees.
Moorhead City Manager Micheal Redlinger says a number of homeowners didn't build sandbag dikes this year. In the midst of the flood fight late last week, Redlinger worried publicly about complacency.
Redlinger says he thinks it's a combination of confidence born of repetition and simple fatigue.
"I think they know the materials are going to be there, and we're obviously going to assist them and help them if they need to get things put in place," said Redlinger. "But it also, I think, is a bit of a concern long term. We heard pretty routinely that people are fatigued, they're tired of doing this. I hope that we get a break next year."
Redlinger says by the time flood cleanup is finished, many city staff will have spent four months on flood duty. The cleanup and adding up all the costs will take several weeks.
Moorhead has spent more than $30 million to purchase and remove more than 100 homes along the river. Redlinger says the city will buy out maybe a dozen more. But it's likely more than 200 homes in the city will remain at risk of flooding.
The city hopes to encourage more residents to build permanent backyard flood defenses. Redlinger says as they complete the big flood mitigation projects, more attention will be focused on micro projects.
"What do the micro projects look like? Are they floodwalls? Are they berms and small levee projects in backyards? These little things add up," said Redlinger. "In some south Moorhead neighborhoods where people have done these berming improvements, it really helped them out a great deal."
City officials are discussing a possible cost share, or special assessments to help residents pay for backyard flood levees that might cost $5,000 to $10,000 to build.
A growing number of homeowners see that investment as a better option than stacking sandbags each year.