Meandering for health

Here in the Red River Valley, channelization of streams, or the digging of ditches, has allowed agriculture to expand over the past 100 plus years. Much of the land in the valley, especially in the lowest, flattest part of the basin, was wetland or wet meadows. Draining the water off of the land made it plowable, and productive and changed.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” (John Muir, an American Environmentalist). And so it is with rivers, ditches and wetlands. Our desire to remove water from the land has increased the magnitude and occurrence of flooding in the Red River Valley. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy has put together an 8 minute video titled: Slowing Red River Flooding that explores how restoring channelized streams to meandering streams can increase wildlife habitat, improve water quality and reduce the impacts of floods.

You can find this video and other information on the Red River Watershed Management Board (RRWMB) website.March 13 and 14th the RRWMB and the Red River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Work Group will hold their joint annual conference   at the Courtyard by Marriott & Conference Center in Moorhead. Go to the website for more info or email .

LiDAR in the Red River Valley

So, I’ve been playing around with a tool that is now available on-line, showing elevation profiles, among other things, in the Red River Valley. In the flattest corner of the state, the difference in elevation across the basin is relatively low. Most elevation tools measure elevation contours at 5 or 10 foot intervals. LiDAR (or Light Detection and Ranging) uses  integration of airborne laser and global position system (GPS) technology to measure difference in elevation of just 2 feet!  A real plus in the Red River Valley where elevation in some areas varies less than 5 feet. How’s it done? Laser pulses are directed at the earth’s surface (early spring or late fall) from equipment aboard an aircraft flying a predetermined grid over an area of interest. The laser reflections are recorded and the range is calculated from the instrument’s orientation in space and the time required for the laser’s light reflection to travel back to the airplane. Examples below of the profile data.


The graph above was made from two original elevation profiles. The blue line is the elevation profile from Detroit Lakes to the Red River (taken as a straight line) and the red line is the elevation profile from Roseau to the Red River. Note that the Red River itself is dropping as it moves north, being at an elevation around 900 feet west of DL, and dropping nearly 100 feet when it gets west of Roseau. Detroit Lakes itself is at an elevation several hundred feet higher than Roseau.

The two profiles above are taken directly from the profile maker on the LiDAR website located at Creating a profile is easy, go ahead, play with it and see what new information you learn!

As we zoom in on locations, we can see more detail in the profile. Below is a profile of the elevation from Manvel, ND to the Red River – a distance of about 3.1 miles. The drop is only a foot or two, until you get to the Red River itself. The first big dip is where the transect crossed the South Marais River, the second is the Red River.

The LiDAR Viewer is a project of the Red River Basin Decision Information Network ( and was developed by the International Water Institute (

Snow studies and flooding, what gives?

Snow isn’t always thought of when we think of flooding, that is until spring rolls around. A new project coordinated by the National Weather Service and NDSU scientists is engaging citizens and students in flood research. This research is timely as the NWS has issued a preliminatry warning for a record fourth straight year of flooding for the spring of 2012.
Of course everyone understands that the more snow we have in the winter, the more water we’ll have on the ground in spring. But it’s not quite that straight forward. Snow falls have different percentages of water in them, thus the term ‘wet snow’ and ‘dry snow.’ This moisture content can actually be measured and its called ‘snow water equivalency.’ This is one of the parameters scientists are hoping to collect information on using volunteers.
Another factor in how much water stays on the land in spring is frost depth. Related to snow depth, frost depth can vary from zero frost in areas that are well insulated with snow and vegetation to several feet of frost. If the ground is frozen, very little water is going to infiltrate (sink in) into the soil in spring. Knowing where and how fast (infiltration rates) snow melt will be absorbed can help scientists understand spring runoff patterns, and perhaps, get a better grasp on flood patterns.
NDSU and River Watch are working with schools and individuals to set up monitoring sites for this upcoming winter. For more information on this project contact Wayne Goeken at

Red River Water Levels and flood info at Fargo

The Fargo Flood Homepage is provided in public service by North Dakota State University. This web site, in continuous operation since 1997, is focused on access to scientific, geographic, and historic information to assist the public in better understanding the nature of flooding in this region. The hydrographs and automated water level are courtesy of Nem Schlecht.
Great jumping off point with links, resources and flooding history of the Red River! Check it out!

A beginning…

Just as all rivers have a beginning, so does this blog. Six months ago I was hired as a water resource educator with the University of Minnesota – Extension, but supported with funding from the International Water Institute and North Dakota Extension. My work area is the entire Red River Valley of the North, at least the part in the U.S. As most everyone in the Valley should know, the Red flows north, ending its run in the waters of Lake Winnipeg.
Water in the Red River Valley is not always welcomed. Flooding takes its toll. We will always flood, that I know. The Red River winds north, like a serpent across a vast, flat lake bottom. The Red River is a young river, still carving out its path. When the flow becomes too great to hold within its banks, the flat topography allows the river to spread out, in many directions. Only dikes, levees and roads create barriers to the rivers movement. At this stage, no one wants the extra water and the goal is to get rid of it, quickly and efficiently. But the water connects us…moving along, one week our worry, the next week another communities concern, down river. We are all communities connected by the Red River and I hope that this blog creates awareness, understanding and collaboration for celebrating life along the river.
RW teachers on RedLkRiv_Reduced.jpg