A wet cycle in the Red River Valley that began in the early 1940s is showing no signs of abating and flood protection measures remain warranted for the Fargo-Moorhead area, a panel of climate experts has concluded.
The panel, which was organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stated in a report released this week that it is not possible to predict when the area may start to experience drier conditions.
The current wet trend remains strong enough to support ongoing study of flood protection options, said Pat Foley chief hydrologist for the corps' St. Paul office.
The panel that met in September included climate researchers from the corps, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Since 1940 or so, it's been wetter and they (panel experts) expect it to stay wetter. How long? They don't know," Foley said of the panel's conclusions.
Foley said the Red River has gone through wet and dry periods for the past 600 years and he said the panel did not make any determinations as to what role, if any, global warming may play in the current wet cycle, or how long it will last.
What is clear, he said, is that when the Red River Valley experiences a dry or wet period, it does so on a scale more extreme than most rivers in the country.
Foley said the panel's findings will help the corps establish a new level for a 100-year flood.
By the corps' definition, a 100-year flood means that in any given year, there is a 1 percent chance the river will reach that level or exceed it.
The current number for the 100-year flood in Fargo-Moorhead is 39.5 feet, which translates to 31,000 cubic feet of water per second. The number for the 500-year flood is 43.9 feet, or 57,400 cubic feet per second.
Dave Olson is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.