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St. Paul District
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Corps continues march toward diversion completion

Published Sept. 2, 2020
Man surveys Red River of the North

Paul Johnson, St. Paul District survey technician, uses his survey equipment to register a survey monument along the Red River of the North, near Georgetown, Minnesota, Aug. 12. The Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, in partnership with the Rock Island and Omaha districts and the FM Diversion Authority, are placing monuments to get a better understanding of the environment within the region and to monitor for any potential impacts related to the construction and/or operation of the Fargo – Moorhead Metro Diversion Flood Risk Management Project.

Man uses hammer to place survey monument

Eduardo Torrens, St. Paul District civil engineer, uses a hammer to drive a survey monument into the ground along the Red River of the North, near Georgetown, Minnesota, Aug. 12. The Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, in partnership with the Rock Island and Omaha districts and the FM Diversion Authority, are placing monuments to get a better understanding of the environment within the region and to monitor for any potential impacts related to the construction and/or operation of the Fargo – Moorhead Metro Diversion Flood Risk Management Project.

Man pulls boat toward river

Paul Johnson, St. Paul District survey technician, pulls a survey boat through the woods to get to the Red River of the North, near Georgetown, Minnesota, Aug. 12. The Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, in partnership with the Rock Island and Omaha districts and the FM Diversion Authority, are placing monuments to get a better understanding of the environment within the region and to monitor for any potential impacts related to the construction and/or operation of the Fargo – Moorhead Metro Diversion Flood Risk Management Project.

With every swing of a hammer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, continues its progress toward completing the Fargo – Moorhead Metro Diversion Flood Risk Management Project.

While the main focus of the flood risk management project is reducing flood risk to more than 230,000 people within the Fargo, North Dakota – Moorhead, Minnesota Metro area, a behind-the-scenes survey project is ongoing this summer, too.

The district’s survey team is working with teams from the Rock Island and Omaha districts as they traverse a variety of locations along Red River of the North and its tributaries. With every stop, the team pulls out their global positioning system, a unique survey monument, a hammer and an occasional machete to access some of the more remote locations with weeds often more than 8 feet tall. One by one, the team hones in on the precise location, drives a permanent survey monument into the ground and records its location prior to packing all of the equipment up and heading to the next location.

Eduardo Torrens, St. Paul District civil engineer in charge of the survey team, said the hardest part about the project is often just getting to where they need to be. “To access the river, we drag a small boat through a river bank, load it with our equipment and then navigate to the survey locations,” he added. “Each location is different. Sometimes we have riverbanks with vertical drops of more than 10 feet with slippery clay soils, and sometimes the banks are very saturated and you sink in the ground like quicksand! Once you make it to the top of the bank, then you have to deal with the weeds; and, as soon as you start cutting them, thousands and thousands of mosquitoes appear.”

Despite the challenges, the work is important. Kimberly Warshaw, St. Paul District project manager in charge of the study, said the survey team is collecting riverbank and riverbed data and placing survey monuments in the ground at various locations along the Maple, Red, Rush, Lower Rush, Buffalo, Wolverton Creek, Sheyenne and Wild Rice rivers. “The surveys at these monitoring locations will help us gather useful data and will ultimately help the district and our partners determine the existing river conditions and see how the rivers might change over the course of years.” 

The survey work this summer builds on previous biological surveys that the St. Paul District completed in 2012 and 2017 and geomorphic surveys it completed in 2011-2012 and 2018, both of which are a part of an adaptive approach to monitoring river ecosystems, said Warshaw. She added that the biological and geomorphic surveys are done to analyze the river systems in order to understand the range of changes taking place on rivers within the greater project area.

Warshaw said the survey work is necessary for the district’s adaptive management plan and to know if the flood risk management project has an impact on the riverine habitat within the region. “The plan’s purpose is really about providing a framework for implementing an adaptive approach,” said Warshaw. “We want to understand what is, or is not, happening within the region and then develop long-term solutions.” She added that the plan is a living document and will be updated as needed. “It will drive the implementation of mitigation and the data collection and review process to ensure impacts have been addressed,” she continued. “Monitoring results will be compared in the future to verify whether the impacts of the project have been offset by mitigation actions.”

The survey team expects to place nearly 140 survey monuments this year. This will add to the approximately 365 markers that the team placed during their work in 2018. The geomorphic study work provides environmental data useful to the Corps and its natural resource agency partners. Warshaw said a team plans to check the locations every two to three years over the next 50 years to monitor any changes to the rivers.

Warsaw said the study involved a lot of coordination prior to the survey team starting their work. “Prior to conducting any survey, we coordinate with the landowners,” said Warshaw. “Once we receive the required rights-of-entry from the landowner, our surveyors do everything they can to minimize property disturbances” Warsaw said she hopes the surveys will be completed by early winter.