University researchers try to alleviate flooding

Engineers from the University and the U.S. Army designed a mini-aqueduct for Fargo-Moorhead.

University researchers try to alleviate flooding

Taylor Nachtigal

Since 1993, the Fargo-Moorhead area has flooded every year except one, racking up an average of almost $200 million in annual damages.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop an aqueduct for the Maple River as part of a larger system to deter flooding that has plagued the area. It’s estimated that one in five North Dakotans will benefit from the project.

An 80-foot-by-70-foot wood and concrete model, built at a fraction of the scale the aqueduct one would be, fills an entire building at the University’s UMore Park in Rosemount. It took five months to build and was completed this summer, said Matt Lueker, an engineer with the University’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

A second aqueduct on the Sheyenne River is also part of the $1.8 billion Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project.

The Maple River model at UMore Park — which will help in designing real aqueducts for both rivers — mimics the land’s actual topography, allowing researchers to gauge the water’s flow and adjust the structure and its channels, said Aaron Ketchmark, a junior scientist with the University’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

Lueker said engineers are running computer models in conjunction with the physical model that the University helped create at a total cost of $2.6 million.

“When they both give you the same results, you have a higher degree of confidence that what you are seeing in each model is what you will see in real life,” he said.

To use the aqueduct model, researchers pump water through the system, then scatter handfuls of paper dots and track where they flow — and more importantly, where they pool and get stuck in small whirls. They can also review the effects of things like debris and ice, which are issues in an area with particularly bitter and cold winters.

“A lot of these things are built in temperate or warm climates, and they don’t have to worry about ice so much,” said Bill Csajko, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Brett Coleman, another project manager for the corps, said the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project began in 2008 and it would take eight to 10 years before construction completes — with the project’s three gates, two aqueducts, 30 miles of diversion channels and about a half dozen bridges.

Once finished, Coleman said it would protect the area against a 100-year event, or a major degree of flooding that has a 1 percent chance of happening each year.

Congress authorized $800 million in federal funding for the project earlier this summer, Csajko said, which accounts for a little less than half of the total cost. North Dakota will pay for most of the remainder, which is about $1 billion, with Minnesota also kicking in $100 million.

The project is divided into 28 different areas called “reaches,” he said, one of which includes the Maple River aqueduct and is estimated to cost between $80 and $120 million.

Because Congress has not yet allocated the funding, construction on the project hasn’t begun, though small, local efforts are already underway, Coleman said.

“The exact timeline is hard to say at this point,” he said, “but some sponsors have started construction of in-town levies on the Fargo side.”

Csajko said he hopes to receive the funding in 2015, after which he said construction would begin downstream and work its way 36 miles upriver. Until then, researchers are pulling together the plan’s specifics while they wait for Congress to officially appropriate the money.

“You can’t tell what Congress is going to do,” Csajko said.