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FEMA Projects Lower Flood Risks in Cogswell, North Dakota

COGSWELL, ND - Like many North Dakota communities, Cogswell, founded by pioneers in 1885 and located on the prairie near the southeastern corner of the state, has been plagued repeatedly by overland flooding and lack of drainage. But in the spring of 2009, while vast areas of the state remained inundated for weeks by floodwaters, the abundance caused only minor concerns in Cogswell. Dennis Dockter, a member of the city council and former mayor, said the Sargent County city stayed dry because of steps that had been taken in previous years.

Dockter explained that water drains toward Cogswell from a ridge one mile to the west and flows from the high points to the low points in city. “Cogswell shouldn’t have been built where it is. It’s in a bowl. Water drains into it,” he said. But, he added, Cogswell is the only home many people have known. “It’s been home to so many people for ages. Families are here and their roots are here.”

As happens in communities throughout North Dakota, many homes flooded in Cogswell during high-water events, with some receiving damages that equaled or exceeded 50 percent of their pre-flood market value. Through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the city purchased four such homes.

With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the State of North Dakota, and local sources, the city of about 165 people was able to improve drainage, move a lift station, and convert to open space floodprone lots where houses had stood. In addition, the county and state paid for the elevation of county roads, which improved access to and from the city.

“The people who had been under water were quite willing sellers after they went through the problems they had,” Dockter said. The city also has taken possession of abandoned lots, so several areas provide open space, as well as ponding areas for excess water.

“People are really happy with what took place,” Dockter said, after the 2009 flood subsided. “We got by the flood this spring without anybody having to move. We were able to use our sewer and water system all the time, and it just made life a little better.”

In the county, Drain 11 is an open ditch, a channel that meanders for 26 miles from the northwest corner of the county to the Wild Rice River on the south side. In recent years, many improvements have been made to Drain 11. The Sargent County Water Resource Board cleared the channel of cattails that had blocked the flow in places. According to board president Jim Bosse and board member Roger White, improvements that help prevent erosion of the bank include angling the culverts, use of caps, and installation of rocks and steel piling. In some places, the bank was made less steep. On the channel that leads from the city to the main drain, new double tiles have replaced the old. The new, perforated tiles consist of a corrugated outer channel that is stiff and strong and resists cave-ins and a smooth inner channel that helps the water keep flowing over the nearly flat grade.

Cogswell has also had problems with its sewage lift station. Because it was prone to flooding, Dockter said, flood-fighters would place a culvert around the lift station and build a 6-foot-high ring dike out of sandbags, which were transported by boat to the site. With a loan from the state and financial help from FEMA after a 1998 disaster declaration, the city was able to relocate the lift station so it is no longer likely to flood. Dockter said that in 2009 a backup pump kicked in for 72 hours and then turned off when it was no longer needed.

Another problem Cogswell often faced in wet periods was reduced access due to flooding of nearby county roads. After two stretches, each measuring more than one-half mile, were under water for more than 60 days in 1998, the county and the North Dakota Department of Transportation paid to elevate them by about five feet.

“Right away when it was done, there were some people that were real skeptical. They thought it was being overdone maybe. They figured that was a flood that only comes once in a hundred years and they thought it was foolish to raise the roads as high as we did,” Dockter said. “But now this spring (2009), we’re sure glad they were up. They’re up high where we can travel on them.”

Two FEMA programs provided funds to Cogswell on a cost-sharing basis: the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Public Assistance. The HMGP provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after major disaster declarations. The purpose of the State-administered program is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster. FEMA’s PA program, which provides reimbursement for repair or replacement of public facilities damaged by disaster. Certain portions of Public Assistance funds may be used to promote measures that reduce future loss to life and property, protect the Federal investment in public infrastructure and, ultimately, help build disaster-resistant communities.

Last updated June 3, 2020