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Flood-prone Farms Build Ring Dikes
By Hope Deutscher
September 21, 1998
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Some of the most dramatic images from the Red River floods of last year were of buildings ringed by sandbags or clay, surrounded by water as far as the eye could see. While residents of the Red River Valley hope to never see such sights again, some of them are getting prepared just in case.

IN THE SPRING OF 1997 Loren Kreuger used his tractor to shuttle his family through three feet of floodwater from their rural East Grand Forks home to reach the county road.
Kreuger: I knew my driveway was shot. Because of what I had been driving on it. With the tractor in the water. And it needed to be rebuilt, and this was a feasible way to do that.
"This" means a phalanx of earth-movers scooping, scraping, and shoving dirt into a clay dike around the Krueger's home. The dike is about five feet high, built two feet above the 1997 water level. It's about six feet wide at the top. Eventually his driveway will be built over the top, with grass covering the rest of the dikes to help prevent erosion.

Krueger enrolled in a state-funded program started last summer to help rural homeowners and farmers build such dike around their homes. Last fall, about 60 ring dikes went up. This fall, the Minnesota watershed districts in northwestern Minnesota hope to complete another 150.

Dave Johnson is the Minnesota flood-damage-reduction-grant-program hydrologist. He says while farm fields can come back from a flood, that's not so true of buildings and their contents.

Johnson: When you look at protecting the farm site you're talking about protecting in many case hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, grain storage bins; which you know the crops every year are being protected; you know while they are sitting on the farm site. So in the long term you know we're protecting the economy of that area.
More than 300 farmers are requesting ring dikes. Johnson says there isn't enough money to help pay for them all. The state has already pumped more than $2 million into the program. Johnson says he will be asking the Minnesota Legislature for another $1.5 million. Tim Bertschi with the Army Corps of Engineers says in a flat area like the Red River Valley, ring diking, rather than elevating or moving a home, is more effective for rural homeowners without affecting their neighbors.
Bertschi: The ring levy, because it's a circle and the water can come back on the downstream side or whatever [it] does, has very little impact as far as raising stages in other areas, so it's not one of those situations where I'm going to protect you and the downstream folks are affected. ...Generally ring-levees do not have any effect of that kind - even the ones that are done around cities.
Visitors to Charles Sehler's rural East Grand Forks homestead must now drive over the six-foot-high dike circling snug around his house, a Quonset hut, an old chicken coop, and several granaries. Sehler says looking out his window at a grass dike is a small price to pay. Remembering the fight and eventual loss to the 1997 flood still brings tears.
Sehler: It was not a good sight ... but it happens, and life goes on. I got this dike now. I'm set. I was really grateful because I never want to see it again.
The Red River crept over a low-lying bank less than a mile from Sehler's home. It may have come slowly, but it ruined the contents of his basement, and other buildings causing more than $25,000 dollars in damages. Sehler says he'll pay a tenth of that for the dike - which he says is a good insurance policy.
Sehler: I would say it's an asset to my property. Rural areas around here are - farmsteads are very hard to come by. And people love to live out in the country. It's a pretty spot. We've got oak trees all over and no doubt - it's really an asset. that's for sure.
Should heavy rain cause water to pool inside the dike, special culverts will push it out. The ring-dike-building program is only available on the Minnesota side of the Red River. North Dakota farmers say they are envious of the program. Recently the North Dakota Water Commission agreed to pay 25 percent of the cost of building 80 ring dikes around farmsteads north of Grand Forks. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson says he supports such a program, but members of the state water commission are hesitant.
Johnson: They said: "Where does this end? If we start doing this, what is the total exposure that is possible? And will it be confined to the northeast?" Well, likely not - it's likely to go further south ... and I'm not adverse to doing things to help property, but we also need to look at what resources do we have right now, and can we get this in a plan so that we can, in fact, budget dollars to do it.
Officials from North Dakota and Minnesota says they'll probably be asking their respective legislatures for more ring-dike funding next year. Meanwhile, contractors are scurrying to finish the dikes planned for this season before the snow flies. If not completed, those dikes will be added to the long list of homeowners waiting for a dike to be built next year.