Grand Forks, ND

In April of 1997 the City of Grand Forks was flooded by the Red River to the north. Grand Forks received help from all over the country during the clean-up and since that time Grand Forks has not only recovered, it has flourished. Since the 1997 flood, some farm fields have been flooded, but no one has yet been forced to leave their homes in Grand Forks – a far cry from 1997, when authorities ordered the entire population of about 50,000 to evacuate.

Flooding in Grand Forks, ND, 1997. Photo by Tony Mutzenberger,  U.S. Geological Survey .

Flooding in Grand Forks, ND, 1997. Photo by Tony Mutzenberger, U.S. Geological Survey.

Project Overview

The Flood Protection Project (FPP) for Grand Forks is comprised of two flood control systems working together: a levee/floodwall system that holds back high water from the river and the English Coulee diversion channel that diverts overland flows around the west side of the city. Although most water is diverted around the city during times of flood, internal city drainage of the English Coulee must be collected. This water is pumped over the levee by the largest pumps constructed in the project, which have the capacity to pump 112,000 gallons per minute. This is the largest storm water pumping station in North Dakota. A series of smaller pumping stations handle runoff and snowmelt within the remainder of the city by pumping the rain and snowmelt runoff over the levees/floodwalls.

The floodwalls and levees in Grand Forks span nearly 8 miles. The top of the levees are about 10 feet wide and sit at a river gauge of approximately 60 feet. The Grand Forks floodwalls are built an additional three feet taller. Because of this additional height and the 10-foot width of the levees, the city could successfully fight a 500-year flood by adding clay to the top of the levees. The project included the construction of 12 new flood pump stations, 7 floodwall closure structures, 3 up-and-over crossings, and the 9.5 mile English Coulee Diversion Channel. Additionally, the project included 20 miles of greenway trails and the Lincoln Golf Course.


Implementation & Funding

The FPP began shortly after the 1997 flood. The original components of the FPP have been implemented, however the program remains active in improving flood protection measures in the city. The total cost of the project has been $403 million. The federal government provided $203 million. The rest of the costs were split between the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota ($135 million, 45% coming from the State of North Dakota), and East Grand Forks, Minnesota ($65 million, majority coming from the State of Minnesota).


Economic Advantage

The 1997 flood produced almost $1 billion of damage to the communities in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks levee system will protect the city from a 500-year flood at river gauge level of approximately 60 feet. It is estimated that the benefit-cost ratio of the project is approximately $2.5 saved per $1 spent. Just 80 miles upriver in Fargo, North Dakota, residents are often forced to use sandbags as temporary dikes and dig craters for clay to prevent river water from entering the city.