BEMIDJI — Minnesota is about as waterlogged as it's ever been, but flooding could be much worse. Record rainfalls have not caused devastating flooding in some of the places traditionally most at risk.
Money poured into flood prevention over the last decade and half has changed the way Minnesota floods, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Capital Investment Director Kent Lokkesmoe.
In 1997 the Red and Minnesota Rivers flooded beyond anything most people had seen before. DNR records show the majority of the state's counties were declared federal disaster areas that year, but the flood of 1997 gave the hardest hit cities, such as Moorhead and Grand Forks, North Dakota. a special reputation for flooding.
Over the years those reputations were born out by more floods, but this year many cities known for their frequent floods are actually staying relatively dry despite record high water. Lokkesmoe said that's because the same flood that gave places like Fargo-Moorhead, Crookston, Granite Falls and Montevideo their soggy reputations also started a stream of government mitigation dollars.
Since 1997, Lokkesmoe said, about $700 million from federal, state, and municipal coffers shored up flood prone communities across Minnesota.
"The communities that had the most repetitive losses," he said, "that were at the most risk, that's where we put the focus."
The cash was funneled through Minnesota's Flood Hazard Mitigation Program, building miles of levees and buying out a total of 3,200 flood-prone homes. A big chunk of that money, roughly $105 million according to Lokkesmoe, went to Moorhead to build levees and buy out 250 homes, but many smaller communities also got assistance.
All the work carried a big price tag, but Lokkesmoe estimates each dollar spent on mitigation will save the state four dollars over the long term.
This year, he said the state is seeing a return on investment.