Red River of the North Flood Control and Flood Damage Reduction
The Red River of the North is one of only a few major rivers in North America that flow north. This increases its spring flood potential, because snow in the southern headwaters of the basin often melts before snow in the northern areas, causing peak flows from downstream tributaries to coincide with the flood crest on the Red River. The northward flow of the river also results in more ice jam problems than most southward flowing rivers experience. In addition, the Red River is located within the broad, flat bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz, which has only a mild northward slope. As a result, the main stem and tributary rivers in the glacial lake plain area of the basin frequently overflow onto broad floodplains.
Flooding occurs when water from upstream enters an area at a rate exceeding the channel capacity to carry that water downstream. Flood damages occur when flood levels rise high enough, or remain long enough, to cause adverse impacts. Flood damages in the Red River Basin have included severe structural damage to private and public facilities and infrastructure, extensive crop loss, major environmental degradation, and loss of life.
Many floods have occurred in the Red River Basin in recorded history. The earliest accounts are found in journal entries of trappers and explorers beginning in 1824. Major floods have occurred on the main stem and tributaries both in the spring, due to snowmelt and rain, and in the summer, due to more localized heavy rains. Damages due to flooding have, on occasion, been catastrophic. Although flooding has been a natural occurrence in the basin since glacial Lake Agassiz receded, the potential for damage increased with settlement and subsequent industrial, urban, and agricultural development.
(For more information on the Red River of the North hydrology and flooding see TSAC Technical Papers 10 and 11.)
The Flood Damage Reduction Work Group (FDRWG or Work Group) was originally formed in 1998 to address issues related to the development of flood damage reduction projects in that portion of the Red River of the North Basin in Minnesota. (See next section.) While recognizing that the ultimate solutions to the flood damage and natural resource problems in the Red River Basin will take a concerted effort from people throughout the Basin, the Work Group was formed to address issues that are unique to Minnesota. However, the Work Group maintains extensive communications and coordination with jurisdictions and organizations throughout the Basin. For example, in 2005, two members of the Flood Damage Reduction Work Group also served as chairpersons for other Basin-wide organizations.
The Flood Damage Reduction Work Group is not a legally constituted body and has no regulatory or funding authority. It is an ad hoc group of individuals representing federal, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that meet voluntarily under a set of mutually agreed upon groundrules. The Work Group meets for the purpose of coordinating the implementation of the 1998 Mediation Agreement and making recommendations to other authorities and jurisdictions within the Red River Basin to that effect.
The Red River Basin has experienced extensive drainage and flood control activities for most of the past 100 years. However, flooding and related soil erosion have continued to plague the region. During the 1990s there were frequent disagreements between watershed districts and resource management agencies over the most effective and least environmentally destructive methods to reduce flood damages. After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) completed a joint environmental impact statement on cumulative effects of flood control projects in the Basin in 1996, the controversy reached its peak. Consequently, in May 1997, the Minnesota Legislature authorized funding for a “mediation” process to resolve the disputes regarding environmental effects of flood control and to break the gridlock blocking many new flood damage reduction projects.
Phase I Mediation Assessment
Mediation Agreement (December 8, 1998)
In December 1998, an agreement to reduce flood damage and improve natural resources in the Minnesota portion of the Red River Basin was reached by representatives of watershed districts, state and federal agencies, environmental organizations, and private landowner representatives. The agreement forged by this group, known as the Flood Damage Reduction Work Group, provided for a new collaborative approach to planning and implementing both flood damage reduction and natural resource enhancement projects. Key elements of the agreement are clearly identified goals for both flood reduction and natural resources; comprehensive watershed planning; early consultation and collaboration among all stakeholders; and a cooperative approach to permitting projects.
The Work Group keeps meeting summaries, which list the actions taken and topics addressed at Work Group meetings. However, there are no formal minutes of discussions. To see the summary of a particular meeting click on one of the meeting dates in this list.
The Flood Damage Reduction Work Group relied on a Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC) to provide technical and scientific information and analysis in support of the mediation effort. The TSAC represented a range of disciplines, including hydrology, engineering, ecology, soils science, and economics. The TSAC developed a series of working papers to address key topics associated with flood damage reduction and modeled the use of different strategies for flood damage reduction. The TSAC did its work based on consensus, and its work products reflect consensus recommendations to the Work Group.
The TSAC membership:
TSAC Technical Papers
Technical Paper No. 1: An Overview of the Impacts of Water Level Dynamics (“Bounce”) on Wetlands -- Apfelbaum, Steven and Lewis, Larry (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 2: Small Wetlands Use for Stormwater Runoff Management in the Red River of the North Basin -- Eppich, Doug; Apfelbaum, Steven; Lewis, Larry (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 3: The Effectiveness of Agricultural Best Management Practices for Runoff Management in the Red River Basin of Minnesota -- Larson, Greg (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 4: Siting and Design of Impoundments for Flood Control in the Red River Basin -- Anderson, Charlie; Lewis, Larry (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 5: Stream Restoration for Flood Damage Reduction in the Red River -- Aadland, Luther; Jutila, Scott; Anderson, Charlie (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 6: Watershed Modeling of Various Flood Damage Reduction Strategies -- Solstad, Jim (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 7: Flood Frequency Based Design -- Woodbury, Lawrence H.; St. Germain, Rick R. (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 8: Implementation of a Flood Damage Reduction Strategy in the Red River Basin -- Technical and Scientific Advisory Group (December 8, 1998)
Technical Paper No. 9: Red River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project Monitoring Program -- Eppich,Doug; MacGregor, Molly; Kean, Al (April 2003)
The concept of a “Project Team” was created in the Red River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Work Group mediation agreement, December 9, 1998. The agreement outlines a project development process for reducing flood damage and improving natural resources in the Minnesota portion of the Red River Basin that involves early consultation and collaboration among all stakeholders and a cooperative approach to permitting projects.
Project Teams are responsible for working with a project from development of a project concept through to project construction and monitoring. A Project Team consists of appropriate stakeholders (watershed districts, state, federal and tribal agency personnel, local government officials, affected landowners and interested citizen group representatives), including at least one designated contact person from each agency. Members of the Project Team are appointed by the watershed board of managers.
Project proposers can use the Project Team process for projects that are large, complex, or have the potential to be controversial. But even small, relatively minor projects can be advanced through this process if the project proposer believes that the project could be expedited or would benefit from the group decision-making and regulatory coordination inherent in this process.
The FDR Work Group has developed a Project Team Handbook that contains all the information needed to manage the Project Team process. The Handbook is available for watershed district managers and administrators as well as the members of the Project Teams.
Each year the Flood Damage Reduction Work Group has the opportunity to direct the expenditure of an appropriation of state general funds through the Department of Natural Resources Water Resources account. The spending plan adopted by the Work Group that recommends how the Department of Natural Resources should allocate those funds.
Red River flooding periodically threatens western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota towns. But by letting rivers meander again and restoring wetlands, MCEA and other groups are slowing the rampaging Red River while also creating new and better habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. View the work in this video.