Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority
Original Publication Date: August 23rd, 2012
Republished with persmission from:
These cool fall mornings mean that school buses will soon be motoring down our streets and country roads, carrying our bright-eyes pupils back to class. This seems like a great time for us to grab a little refresher course in the exciting subject of FEMA flood levels. The subject sounds about as riveting as grilled cheese and dill pickles in the lunch room. These levels do, however, have an enormous impact on how Red River diversion decisions are being made. Let’s start with an easy one.
38.4: This is the current river level that FEMA calls a 100-year flood in Fargo. If your home is located at or below 38.4 feet on the river gauge, most banks require you to buy flood insurance if you have a mortgage. OK, now it gets a bit more complicated.
39.4: FEMA announced Monday that they have added the recent wet years and decided this number more accurately reflects the risk of a 100-year flood. They figure it by adding all the years with accurate river reading and calculating the probability of reaching this level once in 100 years. Political subdivisions must adopt FEMA’s recommendations if they want to qualify for federal help in a disaster. Fargo will likely adopt the new level.
42.4: The U.S. Army Corps decided this should be the 100-year flood level in Fargo in their diversion proposal. They assembled an elite group of thinkers, and decided that climate change is doing strange and terrible things to our fair river. Instead of averaging historic river levels, they say the dry years before 1942 don’t matter as much. Their crystal ball is more accurate than history. A funny coincidence is that federal funding for flood control projects is based on benefit/cost ratios. The more property shown to be saved from flooding, the better chance to convince state and federal lawmakers to cough up some cash. There is a lot more property at risk if the 100-year flood level is 42.4 instead of 39.4. Whenever the F-M Diversion Authority presents their case for the dam/diversion to the public or the legislature, all their maps and figures are based upon their 42.4 level.
The old saying is, “Figures don’t lie.” When I was in school, my tests with an “A” had a much better chance of making it home to mom than those that suggested I needed to do a little more homework. I bet the kids riding those school buses this week wish they could pick the best numbers too.