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Friday, May 27, 2022

Lewes keeps Minnesota’s ‘fishbow’ town dry during Red River floods

OSLO, Minn. Every year or three, when the river rises and the roads disappear, a few hundred Minnesotans become islanders.

Like in 2020, 2019 and many times before, the small northwestern Minnesota town of Oslo has been cut off from floodwaters since the last week of April. Without a ride in the National Guard Humvee, residents are not allowed to come or go. It may take several more days for the highway to open.

But Oslo’s plight is also a study in adaptation – a geographically vulnerable place that found a way to escape nature’s tantrums without engaging in an endless cycle of destruction and reconstruction. A levy system that rings in Oslo keeps water out of city streets and basements, even when the flood-prone Red River spills out miles from its banks. The trade-off is that residents can be trapped inside the city for days or even weeks.

“We are like a fish bowl,” said Mayor Erica Martens.

The river long ago lost its ability to confuse Oslo, where businesses remain open even when there are no roads. If Kosmatka’s market for groceries starts running low, vendors deliver food across the street and the National Guard helps get it to the shelves. School children who cannot reach their classes outside the city gather at the lounge of Dahlstrom Motors, a local Chevrolet dealer. Guardsmen bring mail with a letter carrier to deliver it.

“It’s probably more common than most people think,” said David Dahlstrom, who runs the dealership, where you could have bought a truck last week if you found your way to town.

balance with nature

In an undated archival image, streets flood the streets of Oslo, Minn., before any dams were built to protect the city from flooding. When the Red River floods near Oslo, Minn., which happens frequently, residents are trapped within the city limits. But a compromise with nature keeps water away from their homes. (via The New York Times)

Oslo, about 60 miles south of the Canadian border, has been flooded for as long as it has existed, as is a historic photo display at the community center. Black-and-white snapshots show four men boating on a city street and, in 1916, floodwaters reach the school house. By the 1970s, when an early flood protection system was installed, Oslo’s streets were vulnerable to flooding. And as recently as 2011, volunteers had to fill thousands of sandbags to fill gaps and shore up flood protections that eventually fell out of compliance with federal guidelines.

Residents were in no hurry to fill the sandbags on Wednesday, nor were they worried about whether the dams would clog. Instead, they were playing kickball with the National Guard and grilling burgers on Main Street. A lengthy state-funded effort to rebuild the city’s levy system, completed in 2016, has kept the city dry and calm during recent floods.

That project came at a significant cost: many houses had to be demolished to build the new levee. But the underlying ceasefire – the river may flood, and the city may remain dry – has helped Oslo survive.

“It’s that balance,” said Scott Sobich, Oslo’s lead engineer for the reconstruction of the Levi system. “We will give a little. Nature, both of us, you will give a little. And we will try to live here in harmony as much as we can. ”

High water events have become even more common in recent years due to longer periods of more intense rainfall, the consequences of climate change, and changes in river hydrology. According to data from the National Weather Service, nine of Oslo’s 10 worst recorded floods have occurred in the past 26 years, including a crest on Wednesday morning, which was the ninth-highest on record.

“They just learned to live with it,” said Pat Lynch of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which manages the grant program that Oslo and other cities have used to reduce their flood risk. When you’re literally built on a river, in a landscape that lacks relief.”

Up and down the Red River Valley, cities and towns have taken steps to limit their risks, buying flood-prone homes along the river, and investing large sums of money in flood protection systems. Those moves are part of a wider effort across the country to adapt to a more disaster-prone climate.

In Grand Forks, North Dakota, which was devastated by the Red River floods in 1997, the most at-risk neighborhoods were purchased and new flood protection installed. When the river reached appalling heights last week, life continued to move, with bridge closures ranking as the biggest impact.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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