The International Water Institute will launch a $5 million project today designed to develop a high-resolution digital elevation map of the entire U.S. portion of the Red River Basin.
A ceremony for the Red River Basin Mapping Initiative is planned at 11:30 a.m. at the Fargo Air Museum, 1609 19th Ave. N., Fargo. Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner will be master of ceremonies. Other participants include Gov. John Hoeven and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
The project’s collected data will have numerous applications, including flood plain management, flood forecasting, decision-support, precision farming, project alternatives analysis and planning.
The initiative will cover 41,700 square miles of lands in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota. The project size is comparable to the entire state of Kentucky. The need for better elevation mapping across the Red River Basin initially was identified by numerous local, state and federal agencies after the Flood of 1997, according to Chuck Fritz, director of the International Water Institute, based in Fargo.
Vastly improved accuracy
“With the exception of the major urban areas along the Red River, most of the Red River Basin has elevation data that is over 35 years old, with accuracies ranging from plus/minus 6 to 23 feet,” Fritz said. “This new data will have 6-inch or better accuracy. These data will be roughly 40 times better than what is currently available over most parts of the Red River Basin.”
The initial phase will consist of five data-collection efforts over a 2½-year period.
Data will be collected using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technologies. LiDAR combines aircraft, global positioning systems, computers and lasers and is a proven technology capable of collecting massive quantities of highly accurate elevation data over large land regions.
Laser pulses are directed at the Earth’s surface from an airplane or helicopter flying a predetermined grid over an area of interest.
The digital elevation data will be available to the public at no charge on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Center for LiDAR Information Coordination and Knowledge Web site.
The federal government — Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the NRCS Soil Survey Department — will provide 50 percent of funding.
Other funding partners include the North Dakota Red River Joint Water Resources Board, Minnesota Red River Watershed Management Board, Southeast Cass Joint Water Resources Board, Buffalo-Red Watershed District. The cities of Wahpeton, Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota, and Breckenridge, Moorhead and East Grand Forks in Minnesota are other funding contributors, as are the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the North Dakota State Water Commission.
“This project will profoundly impact how we make and evaluate natural resources management decisions in the Red River Basin,” said Paul Swenson, U.S. chair of the International Water Institute.
The institute is a flood research and watershed education agency established in 2001 to be a forum for research, public education, training, and information dissemination relating to flood damage reduction and water resource protection and enhancement in the Red River Basin in the U.S. and Canada.