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Historic accounts of extreme floods on the Red River of the North

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Here I explain how Canadian and American communities along the Red River of the North have developed fundamentally different responses to the threat of flooding, and argue that these differences in flood mitigation reflect disparate experiences with particular floods during the past two hundred years.

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Historic accounts of extreme floods on the Red River of the North

  1. 1. Development of a Framework for Technical Review of Paleoflood Information | Rockville, Maryland | May 29-30, 2019 HISTORIC ACCOUNTS OF EXTREME FLOODS ON THE RED RIVER OF THE NORTH
  2. 2. THE RED RIVER OF THE NORTH
  3. 3. THE RED RIVER OF THE NORTH
  4. 4. LAKE AGASSIZ
  5. 5. 1997 Source: Dr. Greg Brooks, Geological Survey of Canada
  6. 6. GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA
  7. 7. $3.5 B USD
  8. 8. WINNIPEG, CANADA
  9. 9. River diversion Main channel Source: Dr. Greg Brooks, Geological Survey of Canada
  10. 10. ? WHY DID WINNIPEG ADOPT SUCH A HIGH LEVEL OF PROTECTION WHILE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES REMAINED RELATIVELY VULNERABLE TO FLOODING?
  11. 11. 1950
  12. 12. Estimate for 1826 discharge Floodway capacity 1950 flood discharge Sources: Brooks and St. George, Geomorphic Approaches to Integrated Floodplain Management of Lowland Fluvial Systems in North America and Europe (2015); Manitoba Water Stewardship THE FLOODWAY WAS DESIGNED FOR A FLOOD LARGER THAN THE RECENT 1950 DISASTER PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE MEMORY OF PAST FLOODS.
  13. 13. THE DAKOTA TERRITORY WAS THE NORTHERNMOST PART OF THE LAND ACQUIRED IN THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE IN 1803,
  14. 14. GRAND FORKS 1870
  15. 15. WINNIPEG 1812
  16. 16. FORT GARRY, HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY
  17. 17. ACCORDING TO HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS, THREE 19TH CENTURY FLOODS EQUALLED OR EXCEEDED THE 1997 ‘FLOOD OF THE CENTURY’. Source: Brooks and St. George, Geomorphic Approaches to Integrated Floodplain Management of Lowland Fluvial Systems in North America and Europe (2015)
  18. 18. MAY 11826
  19. 19. WE OFTEN WISHED AND PRAYED FOR WARM WEATHER; NOW THIS IS SENT US, AND IT TURNS OUT THE CAUSE OF MOST SERIOUS APPREHENSION; THE PRODIGIOUS QUALITY OF SNOW … HAS BEEN DISSOLVED SO FAST AS TO CAUSE THE RIVER TO SWELL WITH UNUSAL CELERITY. “ ” David Jones Journal May 1826
  20. 20. MAY 31826
  21. 21. THE RIVER ROSE SIX FEET LAST NIGHT PERPENDICULARLY , SEVERAL TENTS ARE NOW PITCHED UPON THE MOST ELEVATED SPOTS: TERROR IS STRONGLY DEPICTED ON EVERY COUNTENANCE. “ ” David Jones Journal May 1826
  22. 22. MAY 51826
  23. 23. THE RIVER OVERFLOWED ITS BANKS EVERY WHERE, AND CARRIED THE ICE WITH GREAT VELOCITY TO A GREATER DISTANCE FROM ITS COURSE, THAN HAD EVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE BY THE OLDEST INHABITANTS. “ ” Red River Journal May 1826
  24. 24. MAY 161826
  25. 25. THE WHOLE FACE OF THE COUNTRY, BOTH BELOW AND ABOVE OUR ENCAMPMENT IS COVERED WITH WATER, AND IN THIS WINDY WEATHER, LOOKS LIKE AN IMMENSE LAKE IN A STORM. “ ” Red River Journal May 1826
  26. 26. Source: St. George and Rannie (2003)
  27. 27. 1826
  28. 28. DONALD SMITH DRIVES THE LAST SPIKE OF THE CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY IN 7 NOVEMBER 1885.
  29. 29. ESTIMATED STAGE (SOLID LINE) AND DISCHARGE (DASHED LINE) FOR THE 1826 RED RIVER FLOOD AT WINNIPEG Source: St. George and Rannie (2003)
  30. 30. THE LARGEST FLOODS ARE KNOWN FROM HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS AND POST HOC SURVEYS OF LOCAL ELDERS. Source: Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship 0 60,000 120,000 180,000 240,000 2006 1996 1979 1950 2011 1861 2009 1997 1852 1826 discharge (cfs) historical reports river gauges
  31. 31. ?WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN HISTORIC AND PALEO PEAKS DON’T MATCH?
  32. 32. 1826
  33. 33. 1776
  34. 34. The late Mr. Nolin, who was one of the first adventurers in these parts, assured the writer, that when he first entered Red River, in the year 1776, the flood was still higher than on the present occasion; he having sailed that year, as he declared, from Red Lake River, round by way of Pembina, and down towards the colony; the whole country being under water, and the river appearing to him rather like a lake. “ ” Alexander Ross The Red River Se lement: Its Rise, Progress, and Present State (1856)
  35. 35. WINNIPEG GRAND FORKS
  36. 36. IN THE EARLY 2000s, FLOOD RISK ESTIMATES AT WINNIPEG WERE BASED ON RANDOMIZED HYDROCLIMATIC DATA FROM THE PRIOR SIX DECADES. Source: Warkentin, Proceedings of the Red River Flooding “Decreasing Our Risks” Conference (1999) 1964 1997 1973 1954 1996 1948 1999 1991 1964 1997 1994 1955 1959 1942 1977 1980 1983 1955 1961 1950 1826 This approach to risk assessment did not allow information about the 1826 flood to influence its results.
  37. 37. Source: Bryce Hoye, CBC Winnipeg
  38. 38. Source: Bryce Hoye, CBC Winnipeg
  39. 39. IN 2005, THE GOVERNMENTS OF CANADA AND MANITOBA AGREED TO EXPAND THE FLOODWAY TO PROTECT AGAINST THE “700-YR FLOOD”.
  40. 40. @sco stgeorge

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