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Working at CSU

A river runs through Moorhead

April 8, 2009

Rising rivers and flood danger aren't new to Steve Tranby, Web developer in the Department of Web Communications. He's from Moorhead, Minn., a town of about 40,000 residents east of Fargo, N.D., on the other side of the Red River. And the Red River has been in the news a lot this spring because of historic flood levels.

In late March, Tranby headed back home to help sandbag levees to keep the rising Red out of homes – including his own family’s home.

“When I heard crest predictions go from 41 feet to 43 feet – which is really high – I thought I’d better go help out,” says Tranby, who’s a 2007 CSU alumnus in mechanical engineering and computer science. Just a foot or two makes a huge difference in flood threats, he adds.

Déjà vu all over again

The last time the river threatened homes was in 1997, when the crest hit 39.5 feet. Tranby was still living in Moorhead at the time, so he didn’t have to go far to help.

“We didn’t have to do nearly as much in 1997,” he says. “As long as the river stayed below 40 feet, we were okay. We added about 2 feet of sandbags to existing levees, and that was enough.”

But not this time. The flood threat this spring had residents scrambling to keep the river from inundating wide areas. In all, 3 to 5 million sandbags were laid at towns along the Red River, including Fargo. 

One is not enough

One levee wasn’t enough – then two levees weren’t enough. (In fact, half the deck at Tranby’s parent’s home had to be dismantled to fit the second dike.) Residents ended up building a third sandbag wall in front of three neighborhood homes to prevent breaks in their levees. The walls, set in place by some 150 people over the long days and nights of work, reached 6 feet high in places.

“Once the river hit 40 feet, we started pumps to draw water out,” Tranby says. “We checked them every 20 minutes or so when the river was really rolling. Although we were fairly confident our work would hold, there was a sense of urgency while the third wall was being built.” 

Rolling on the river

The Red River, which flows from south to north into Manitoba, ended up cresting at 40.8 feet – the highest ever recorded. All the work paid off in dry homes or moderate water damage in places.
Although the immediate danger is over and Tranby is back to work at CSU after a hectic week, the river is still being closely watched. Like all natural phenomena, rivers are as unpredictable as the weather, and the weather is continuing to keep people on high alert. Snow storms and rain moving through the upper Midwest lately meant more work placing plastic over the face of the dikes to keep precipitation from eroding the sandbags. 

(Tranby's in the orange wind pants with white stripe in the photo at right.)

A way of life

Tranby doesn’t consider himself a hero by any means, nor will he admit to going above-and-beyond to help out.

“It’s just how we do things,” he says. “If we need to keep the river out of our homes, everybody pitches in. Helping out is second nature in our community.”

Contact: Paul Miller
Phone: (970) 491-2658