Fair displays flood-fighting tools

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MPR Photo Dan Gunderson

The business of flooding was on display in Fargo Wednesday. One vendor promised their device will fill sandbags 500 percent faster. Another, the Pro-Bagger claims it “nearly eliminates the back aches and drudgery” of sandbagging.

The Flood Fair has become an annual event in Fargo as floods become a yearly event.

It’s likely to cost tens of millions of dollars to fight floods this year across the region. Most of the money is expected to be spent on sandbags and heavy equipment to build earthen levees. Those are still the most economical reliable emergency flood protection in most cases.

But some new tools have caught on. People I talked with are looking for items that will allow them to save time, something that’s critical when the water is rising.

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The Hesco Concertainer was originally designed to be used in war zones to quickly build blast walls to protect soldiers. It can be quickly set up and filled with sand using a loader.

But is also found a use as a flood fighting tool during Hurricane Katrina.

Fargo used several miles of the barriers in 2009 when city officials were scrambling to find flood barriers they could deploy more quickly than sandbags.

These units can’t replace sandbags, because engineers say they only work well on a flat surface, and that rules out most backyards along rivers.

But they are one of the newer flood-fighting tools that have caught on. Manitoba ordered about 25 miles of the 15 foot long units this year. Many communities in Minnesota and North Dakota will also likely deploy them this year.

Also on display were the basics. Emergency generators to run pumps if the power goes out. Big racks of emergency lights so levee construction can continue around the clock. Massive pumps to move water, and tractor trailers used to haul clay for building levees.

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Another new device that saw limited use in Fargo-Moorhead the past couple of years is a system of huge plastic tubes that are filled with water to create a dam three or four feet high and hundreds of feet long. They can be set up quickly but can be costly. Still, they could catch on with homeowners looking for an easier way to fight floods than stacking thousands of 30 pound sandbags.

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Millions of sandbags could be used across the region this year. One supplier says he doubts there will be any shortages, but they could get more expensive closer to the flood event. It seems the bags imported from Asia are cheaper than bags made in the United States. But it takes several weeks for a shipment of bags to come across the ocean on a container ship. So people who don’t order early might end up paying more.

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