The Magic City: From Disaster to Resiliency
Originally a railroad boomtown founded in 1886 and dubbed “the Magic City” for springing up virtually overnight, Minot is known today as a central hub of the region’s oil economy. After a 1969 flood damaged several control structures in the area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) implemented a flood control project to protect the Souris River from future damage. But on June 22, 2011, following a spring of heavy snowmelt and record levels of precipitation, Minot faced one of the most severe flooding events in recent U.S. history when the Souris exceeded the 500-year flood elevation and overflowed its banks. Damage to the city included 4,100 flooded properties, 3,100 destroyed homes, and over 12,000 displaced residents, totaling over $600 million in loss and damage.
Following the disaster, city and community leaders knew their plans to recover and avoid future impacts needed to go well beyond traditional methods of fighting floods. “The more proactive you can be, the less reactive you will need to be,” explains Michael Schmidt, CDM Smith senior vice president and technical strategy leader for water resources. “The Minot community knows that long-term solutions have to create long-lasting changes throughout the city, or they’ll face these impacts again.”
To achieve this goal, Minot has launched an $820 million flood mitigation program aimed at creating resiliency. This effort is funded by the State of North Dakota, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disaster recovery funds and USACE investments, and by a HUD grant of $74.3 million, supported in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, through the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). Winning this national competition was a true community effort, according to Minot Mayor Chuck Barney, who proudly announced, “We held over 60 public meetings here in Minot and up and down the Souris River basin. We heard from a wide range of folks who opened our eyes to what we need to do in order to be more resilient.”
Through the NDRC application, prepared with the assistance of CDM Smith, the community of Minot demonstrated their commitment to creating resiliency through multiple initiatives:
- Increasing resiliency to flood risk. Minot has developed an approach that blends traditional (“gray”) flood control infrastructure with green infrastructure improvements. Damaged water infrastructure will be rebuilt, and City Hall and other important community buildings proposed to be moved outside the floodplain.
- Building affordable, resilient neighborhoods. Late 20th century development of Minot did not account for 21st century flood risks, causing a re-evaluation of the city’s layout. With concern for displaced residents, vulnerable populations, and future generations, the resiliency program will drive wiser development in the city out of the floodplain.
- Working collaboratively to manage water resources. Because the Souris River runs south from Canada to the U.S., through Minot, and back north to Canada—flowing through bustling communities, national parks, flood control dams, and agricultural businesses along the way—extensive collaboration is underway involving community stakeholders and state and federal agencies on both sides of the international border. This includes consideration of potential operational synergies of large reservoirs upstream operated by both U.S. and Canadian federal authorities.
Minot knows that long-term solutions have to create long-lasting changes throughout the city, or they'll face these impacts again.
CDM Smith water resource engineers are helping Minot and its partners evaluate options using an innovative decision support tool. To solve a flood problem of this magnitude, the team needed to begin by understanding all the river’s complexities. By using decision support tools, they were able to capture key data from multiple systems and model potential changes or enhancements in seconds, not hours. This allowed them to take a step back and rationally think about the Souris River system as a single entity. And by working directly with dam operators and key decision-makers, the team was able to explore what effect different operational strategies could have in order to find the most effective one. Operational changes alone are expected to yield significant reduction in floodwater elevation throughout the river system. With these tools in hand, a collection of agencies and associations is working towards evolving management of water resources along the Souris River.
Throughout Minot’s journey of building back stronger, the value of collaboration has been the most important element of success. From banding together to sandbag against the floods, to working together to win the NDRC competition, to sitting down together to evaluate alternatives with decision support tools, Minot and its partners are working collaboratively to create resiliency and build a stronger community. “Recovery from a disaster like this is going to take the whole coalition working together,” says Schmidt. “But with the level of cooperation between local, state, federal and private partners, Minot’s recovery program has come to embody the true definition of resiliency, and has set the city on the track for success.”