Red River of the North

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Red River of the North
Rivière Rouge / rivière Rouge du Nord
Red River of the North at Fargo, ND.jpg
The Red River in Fargo–Moorhead, as viewed from the Fargo side of the river
Canada Manitoba relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Countries United States
States Minnesota, North Dakota
Province Manitoba
Cities Fargo, North Dakota, Moorhead, Minnesota, Grand Forks, North Dakota, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Selkirk, Manitoba
Physical characteristics
SourceConfluence of Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail Rivers
  location Wahpeton, North Dakota
  coordinates 46°15′52″N96°35′55″W / 46.26444°N 96.59861°W / 46.26444; -96.59861
  elevation948 ft (289 m)
Mouth Lake Winnipeg
50°23′47″N96°48′39″W / 50.39639°N 96.81083°W / 50.39639; -96.81083 Coordinates: 50°23′47″N96°48′39″W / 50.39639°N 96.81083°W / 50.39639; -96.81083
712 ft (217 m)
Length550 mi (890 km)
Basin size111,004 sq mi (287,500 km2) [1]
  location Lockport, Manitoba, 20 miles (32 km) above the mouth
  average8,617 cu ft/s (244.0 m3/s)
  minimum491 cu ft/s (13.9 m3/s)
  maximum152,900 cu ft/s (4,330 m3/s)
Basin features
River system Nelson River basin
  left Bois de Sioux River, Wild Rice River (North Dakota), Sheyenne River, Elm River, Turtle River, Pembina River, Assiniboine River
  right Otter Tail River, Buffalo River, Wild Rice River (Minnesota), Red Lake River, Roseau River, Seine River (Manitoba)

The Red River (French : rivière Rouge or rivière Rouge du Nord) is a river in the north-central United States and central Canada. Originating at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers between the U.S. states of Minnesota and North Dakota, it flows northward through the Red River Valley, forming most of the border of Minnesota and North Dakota and continuing into Manitoba. It empties into Lake Winnipeg, whose waters join the Nelson River and ultimately flow into Hudson Bay.


The Red River is about 885 kilometres (550 mi) long, [2] of which about 635 kilometres (395 mi) are in the United States and about 255 kilometres (158 mi) are in Canada. [3] The river falls 70 metres (230 ft) on its trip to Lake Winnipeg, where it spreads into the vast deltaic wetland known as Netley Marsh. Several urban areas have developed on both sides of the river, including the city of Winnipeg in Canada, as well as the Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks–East Grand Forks metropolitan areas, both of which straddle the North Dakota–Minnesota border. Long an important highway for trade, the Red River has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.

In the United States, the Red River is sometimes called the Red River of the North to distinguish it from the so-called Red River of the South, a tributary of the Atchafalaya River that forms part of the border between Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.


The watershed of the Red River was part of Rupert's Land, the concession established by the British Hudson's Bay Company in north central North America. The Red was a key trade route for the company, and contributed to the settlement of British North America. The river was long used by fur traders, including the French and the Métis people, who established a community in this area some time before the British defeated France in the Seven Years' War. Following that, they took over French possessions in Canada. Settlers of the Red River Colony established farming along the river, and their primary settlement developed as Winnipeg, Manitoba. What became known as the Red River Trails, nineteenth-century oxcart trails developed originally by the Métis, supported the fur trade and these settlements. They contributed to further development of the region on both sides of the international border.


Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba Wpgriversky.jpg
Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Red River in Greater Grand Forks, as viewed from the Grand Forks side of the river Redrivergrandforks.jpg
The Red River in Greater Grand Forks, as viewed from the Grand Forks side of the river
The Red River near Pembina, North Dakota, about 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the Canada-U.S. border. The Pembina River can be seen flowing into the Red at the bottom. Red-river-pembina.jpg
The Red River near Pembina, North Dakota, about 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the Canada–U.S. border. The Pembina River can be seen flowing into the Red at the bottom.

The Red River begins at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers, on the border of Wahpeton, North Dakota and Breckenridge, Minnesota. Downstream, it is bordered by the twin cities of Fargo, North Dakota  Moorhead, Minnesota, and Grand Forks, North Dakota  East Grand Forks, Minnesota. It crosses the Canada–United States border just before reaching the town of Emerson, Manitoba. Manitoba's capital, Winnipeg, is at the Red's confluence with the Assiniboine River, at a point called The Forks. Together with the Assiniboine, the Red River fully encloses the endorheic basin of Devils' Lake and Stump Lake.

The Red flows further north before draining into Lake Winnipeg which then drains through the Nelson River into Hudson Bay, both part of the Hudson Bay watershed. The mouth of the Red River forms a freshwater river delta called the Netley–Libau Marsh. [4] The Netley Marsh is west of the Red and the Libau Marsh is east, forming a 26,000-hectare (64,000-acre) wetland.

Southern Manitoba has a frost-free season of between 120 and 140 days per year in the Red River Valley. [5]


The Red River flows across the flat lake bed of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz, an enormous glacial lake created at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation from meltwaters of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. As this continental glacier decayed, its meltwaters formed the lake. Over thousands of years, sediments precipitated to the bottom of the lakebed. These lacustrine soils are the parent soils of today's Red River Valley. The river is very young; it developed only after Lake Agassiz drained, about 9,500 years ago. [6]

The word "valley" is a misnomer. While the Red River drains the region, it did not create a valley wider than a few hundred feet. The much wider floodplain is the lake bed of the ancient glacial lake. [7] It is remarkably flat; from its origin near Breckenridge, Minnesota, to the international border near Emerson, Manitoba, its gradient is only about 1:5000 (1 metre per 5 kilometres), or approximately 1 foot per mile. The river, slow and small in most seasons, does not have the energy to cut a gorge. Instead it meanders across the silty bottomlands in its progress north. [7] [8] In consequence, high water has nowhere to go, except to spread across the old lakebed in "overland flooding". Heavy snows or rains, especially on saturated or frozen soil, have caused a number of catastrophic floods, which often are made worse by the fact that snowmelt starts in the warmer south, and waters flowing northward are often dammed or slowed by ice. [7] [9] These periodic floods have the effect of refilling, in part, the ancient lake. [8]


Floods happen in the Red River when the water level increases over the tops of riverbanks due to significant precipitation over the same area for long periods, in the forms of persistent thunderstorms, rain, or snow combined with spring snow melt and ice jam. [10] Major floods in historic times include those of 1826, 1897, 1950, 1997, 2009, 2011, and there has been significant flooding many years in between. [11] Geologists have found evidence of many other floods in prehistoric times of equal or greater size. These "paleofloods" are known from their effects on local landforms, and have been the subject of scholarly studies. [12] After the disastrous 1950 flood, which resulted in extensive property damage and losses in Winnipeg, the province of Manitoba undertook flood prevention by constructing the Red River Floodway. Completed in 1968, it diverts floodwaters around the city to less settled areas farther down the river.

Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, suffered widespread destruction in the flood of 1997. 75% of the population in the former city was evacuated, and all of the latter. Many of the residential areas along the rivers were inundated and all the homes had to be destroyed. Afterward, a massive flood protection project was undertaken to protect both cities.

To improve flood prediction, a case study of the Red River of the North [13] applied deep-learning algorithms to predict flood-water level using previous data from Pembina, Drayton, and Grand Forks.

1950 flood

On May 8, 1950, the Red River reached its highest level at Winnipeg since 1861. [14] Eight dikes protecting Winnipeg gave way and flooded much of the city, turning 600 square miles (1,554 km2) of farmland into an enormous lake. The city turned to the Canadian Army and the Red Cross and The Salvation Army for help, and nearly 70,000 people were evacuated from their homes and businesses. Four of eleven bridges in the city were destroyed, and damage was estimated at between $900 million and $1 billion.

As a result of the floods, a flood control project was constructed to prevent such damage in the future. The Red River Floodway around Winnipeg attracted some derision at the time, as some people thought it was massively overbuilt and was the then-largest earth-moving project in the world.[ citation needed ] The project was completed under-budget, and has been used for at least some flood control 20 times in the 37 years from its completion to 2006. The Floodway has saved an estimated $10 billion (CAD) in flood damages.[ citation needed ]

1997 flood

In the spring of 1997 a major flood of the Red River caused a total of $3.5 billion in damage and required temporary evacuation of towns and cities on both sides of the border. The cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, suffered the most damage, and most of their populations had to be evacuated. The river crested at more than 54 feet (16 m) above datum.

The cities worked with FEMA and the state of Minnesota to clear the floodplains of the river on both sides, prohibiting future housing or businesses in this area. They created the Greater Grand Forks Greenway on both sides, which includes city and state parks, a long bike trail, and other recreational amenities. The trees and greenery help absorb floodwaters. A dike system was constructed outside this area on both sides to protect the cities from future floods. In East Grand Forks, a removable flood wall was constructed in the downtown area so that residents did not lose their connection to the river.

In Winnipeg, the flood crested at 24.5 feet (7.5 m) above datum at the James Avenue pumping station, making it the third-highest flood at Winnipeg in recorded history. It was surpassed by the floods of 1825, and 1826. The city was largely spared the fate of Grand Forks thanks to the Floodway, which was pushed to its capacity during the 1997 flood. [15]

2009 flood

In 2009 the Red River flooded in early spring. By Friday, March 27, the river at Fargo had reached the highest level in recorded history. [16] [17] Its discharge at that location was far in excess of normal flows. [18] The river crested at the James Avenue pumping station in Winnipeg at 22.5 feet (6.9 m) above datum, making it the fourth-highest flood in recorded history. [15]

2011 flood

Due to a wet summer in 2010, as well as an above average amount of snowfall through the winter in the Red River Valley, the Red River spilled its banks. It crested in Winnipeg at the James Avenue pumping station at 19.59 feet (5.97 m) above datum, as the sixth highest flood levels in recorded history if flood protection such as the Portage Diversion and the Red River Floodway were not in place. [19] That same year there was a surprise major flood on the Assiniboine River. In May 2011, a Manitoba-wide state of emergency was declared in the wake of a 300-year flood on the Assiniboine River at Brandon. Many residents had to be evacuated. [20] [21] [22]

Flow rates and flood potential

Below are the estimated, measured, and calculated peak flow rates of the Red River at various locations for the top ten floods of the Red River Valley, as measured at Winnipeg.

Location1826 peak flow (cfs)1852 peak flow (cfs)1997 peak flow (cfs)2009 peak flow (cfs)1861 peak flow (cfs)2011 peak flow (cfs)1950 peak flow (cfs)1979 peak flow (cfs)1996 peak flow (cfs)2006 peak flow (cfs)
Wahpeton-Breckenridge [23] --12,80015,400-10,240-7,050-10,720
Fargo-Moorhead [23] --28,00029,500-26,200-17,300-19,900
Grand Forks-East Grand Forks [23] [24] 135,00095,000114,00076,70065,00086,10054,00082,00058,10072,800
Emerson/Pembina [23] [24] 151,000-133,00087,900-84,70095,50092,70066,70073,500
Winnipeg [25] 225,000165,000163,000128,000125,000116,000108,000108,000108,00099,000

See also


  1. Atlas of Canada. "Rivers of Canada" . Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  2. "Red River of the North State Water Trail". Minnesota DNR. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  3. Red River Map 3, Minnesota DNR; map shows the international border at river mile 155.
  4. Environment Canada; Manitoba Water Stewardship (June 2011). Lévesque, Lucie; Page, Elaine; et al. (eds.). "State of Lake Winnipeg: 1999 to 2007" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 19, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2018.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Microsoft Encarta 2005. Retrieved on October 18, 2008.
  6. Schwert, Don (interviewed by Tom Crann), "The geology of the Red River flood plain", Minnesota Public Radio, 25 March 2005. Taped interview.
  7. 1 2 3 Schwert, Donald P. "A Brief Overview of the Geology of the Fargo – Moorhead Region, North Dakota – Minnesota". Fargo Geology. North Dakota State University.
  8. 1 2 Meryhew, Richard (March 24, 2009). "Geology set the Red River on a course for flooding". Minneapolis Star-Tribune . p. 1.
  9. Puxley, Chinta (27 March 2009). "Manitoba flood forecasters say don't be alarmed by flooding in Dakota". Yahoo! News Canada.[ permanent dead link ]
  10. Atashi, Vida (2022). "Water Level Forecasting Using Deep Learning Time-Series Analysis: A Case Study of Red River of the North". Water. 14 (12): 1971. doi: 10.3390/w14121971 .
  11. Major Historical Floods in the Red River Basin Archived 2009-03-22 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ""Paleofloods in the Red River Basin"". Archived from the original on 2005-03-31. Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  13. Atashi, Vida (2022). "Water Level Forecasting Using Deep Learning Time-Series Analysis: A Case Study of Red River of the North". Water. 14 (12): 1971. doi: 10.3390/w14121971 .
  14. "Winnipeg Flood – 1950". SOS! Canadian Disasters: Water. Library and Archives Canada. 14 February 2006.
  15. 1 2 "An Overview of 2009 Spring Flooding in Manitoba" (PDF). Province of Manitoba. August 2009.
  16. Gunderson, Dan; Robertson, Tom; Nelson, Tim (2009-03-27). "Red River tops historic marker, undermines dike". Minnesota Public Radio . Retrieved 2009-03-27.
  17. Kolpack, Dave (March 28, 2009). "Red River valley gets good news in new flood forecast". Minnesota Public Radio. (AP)
  18. "Real-Time Water Data for Red River of the North at Fargo, ND". National Water Information System: Web Interface. United States Geological Survey. 27 March 2009.
  19. "The Red River reached an open water crest in Winnipeg at James Avenue yesterday at 19.59 feet". Manitoba Floods. 6 May 2011. Archived from the original on 20 August 2011.
  20. "Evacuees wait to return home as Brandon faces one-in-300-year flood". CTV news. 10 May 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  21. "Title unknown". The Canadian Press. Archived from the original on 2013-01-02. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  22. "Provincial State of Emergency Declared". CJOB 68. May 9, 2011. Archived from the original on March 31, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  23. 1 2 3 4 "Long Term Flood Solutions For the Red River Basin" (PDF). Red River Basin Commission. September 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-15.
  24. 1 2 "Long Term Flood Solutions For the Red River Basin Appendix B" (PDF). Red River Basin Commission. September 30, 2011.[ permanent dead link ]
  25. "Flood Fighting in Manitoba" (PDF). Province of Manitoba. 2013.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lake Agassiz</span> Enormous lake in central North America at the end of the last glacial period

Lake Agassiz was a large glacial lake in central North America. Fed by glacial meltwater at the end of the last glacial period, its area was larger than all of the modern Great Lakes combined.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Red River Floodway</span> Artificial flood control channel in Manitoba, Canada

The Red River Floodway is an artificial flood control waterway in Western Canada. It is a 47 km (29 mi) long channel which, during flood periods, takes part of the Red River's flow around the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba to the east and discharges it back into the Red River below the dam at Lockport. It can carry floodwater at a rate of up to 140,000 cubic feet per second (4,000 m3/s), expanded in the 2000s from its original channel capacity of 90,000 cubic feet per second (2,500 m3/s).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Assiniboine River</span> River in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba

The Assiniboine River is a 1,070-kilometre (660 mi) river that runs through the prairies of Western Canada in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is a tributary of the Red River. The Assiniboine is a typical meandering river with a single main channel embanked within a flat, shallow valley in some places and a steep valley in others. Its main tributaries are the Qu'Appelle, Souris and Whitesand Rivers. For early history and exploration see Assiniboine River fur trade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1997 Red River flood</span> Major flood on the Red River of the North

The Red River flood of 1997 was a major flood that occurred in April and May 1997 along the Red River of the North in Minnesota, North Dakota, and southern Manitoba. It was the most severe flood of the river since 1826. The flood reached throughout the Red River Valley, affecting the cities of Fargo and Winnipeg, but none so greatly as Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, where floodwaters reached more than 3 miles (4.8 km) inland. They inundated virtually everything in the twin communities. Total damages for the Red River region were US$3.5 billion. The flood was the result of abundant snowfall and extreme temperatures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Souris River</span> River in central North America

The Souris River or Mouse River is a river in central North America. It is about 700 km (430 mi) in length and drains about 23,600 square miles (61,100 km2). It rises in the Yellow Grass Marshes north of Weyburn, Saskatchewan. It wanders south through North Dakota beyond Minot to its most southern point at the city of Velva, and then back north into Manitoba. The river passes through the communities of Melita, Hartney, Souris and Wawanesa and on to its confluence with the Assiniboine River near Treesbank, about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Brandon. The main tributaries which flow into the Souris in Manitoba are the Antler River, the Gainsborough, and Plum Creeks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pembina River (Manitoba – North Dakota)</span> River in Canada, United States

The Pembina River is a tributary of the Red River of the North, approximately 319 miles (513 km) long, in southern Manitoba in Canada and northeastern North Dakota in the United States. It drains an area of the prairie country along the Canada–US border, threading the Manitoba-North Dakota border eastward to the Red River. Via the Red River, Lake Winnipeg and the Nelson River, it is part of the watershed of Hudson Bay.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Red River Valley</span> Region in central North America that is drained by the Red River of the North

The Red River Valley is a region in central North America that is drained by the Red River of the North; it is part of both Canada and the United States. Forming the border between Minnesota and North Dakota when these territories were admitted as states in the United States, this fertile valley has been important to the economies of these states and to Manitoba, Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sheyenne River</span>

The Sheyenne River is one of the major tributaries of the Red River of the North, meandering 591 miles (951 km) across eastern North Dakota, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1950 Red River flood</span> Historic flood in North Dakota and Manitoba

The 1950 Red River flood was a devastating flood that took place along the Red River in The Dakotas and Manitoba from April 15 to June 12, 1950. Damage was particularly severe in the city of Winnipeg and its environs, which were inundated on May 5, also known as Black Friday to some residents.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Portage Diversion</span>

The Portage Diversion is a water control structure on the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada. The project was made as part of a larger attempt to prevent flooding in the Red River Valley. The Portage Diversion consists of two separate gates which divert some of the flow of water in the Assiniboine River to a 29 km long diversion channel that empties into Lake Manitoba near Delta Beach. This helps prevent flooding on the Assiniboine down river from the diversion, including in Winnipeg, where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River.

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Winnipeg lies at the bottom of the Red River Valley, a low-lying flood plain with an extremely flat topography. This valley was formed by the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz which has rich deposits of black soil. Winnipeg is on the eastern edge of the Canadian Prairies in Western Canada; it is known as the 'Gateway to the West'. It is relatively close to many large Canadian Shield lakes and parks, as well as Lake Winnipeg. Winnipeg is bordered by tallgrass prairie to the west and south and the aspen parkland to the northeast.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1997 Red River flood in the United States</span> Flood in the United States in 1997

The Red River flood of 1997 in the United States was a major flood that occurred in April 1997, along the Red River of the North in North Dakota and Minnesota. The flood reached throughout the Red River Valley, affecting the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, and Winnipeg, while Grand Forks and East Grand Forks received the most damage, where floodwaters reached over 3 miles (5 km) inland, inundating virtually everything in the twin communities. Total damages for the Red River region were US$3.5 billion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Winnipeg</span>

The history of Winnipeg comprises its initial population by Aboriginal peoples through its settlement by Europeans to the present day. The first forts were built on the future site of Winnipeg in the 1700s, followed by the Selkirk Settlement in 1812. Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873 and experienced dramatic growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the end of World War I, the city's importance as a commercial centre in Western Canada began to wane. Winnipeg and its suburbs experienced significant population growth after 1945, and the current City of Winnipeg was created by the unicity amalgamation in 1972.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2009 Red River flood</span>

The 2009 Red River flood along the Red River of the North in North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States and Manitoba in Canada brought record flood levels to the Fargo-Moorhead area. The flood was a result of saturated and frozen ground, spring snowmelt exacerbated by additional rain and snow storms, and virtually flat terrain. Communities along the Red River prepared for more than a week as the U.S. National Weather Service continuously updated the predictions for the city of Fargo, North Dakota, with an increasingly higher projected river crest. Originally predicted to reach a level of near 43 feet (13 m) at Fargo by March 29, the river in fact crested at 40.84 feet (12.45 m) at 12:15 a.m. March 28, and started a slow decline. The river continued to rise to the north as the crest moved downstream.

The US State of North Dakota experienced significant flooding in its major river basins in 2009, following abnormally heavy winter snows atop saturated and frozen ground.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Red River floods</span> Index of articles associated with the same name

The Red River floods refer to the various flooding events in recent history of the Red River of the North, which forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota and flows north, into Manitoba.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2011 Red River flood</span>

The 2011 Red River flood took place along the Red River of the North in Manitoba in Canada and North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States beginning in April 2011. The flood was, in part, due to high moisture levels in the soil from the previous year, which meant that further accumulation would threaten the flood-prone region. Flood predictors in Winnipeg were worried that a dual crest of both the Assiniboine River and the Red might crest at the city at the same time. Beginning around April 8, 50 homes were evacuated and two more were flooded after an ice jam in St. Andrews, Manitoba caused the river to flood over its banks.

The 2011 Assiniboine River flood was caused by above average precipitation in Western Manitoba and Saskatchewan. This was a 1 in 300 year flood that affected much of Western Manitoba. The flooding in Manitoba was expected to mostly involve the 2011 Red River Flood but instead the more severe flooding was found on the Assiniboine in the west.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2011 Souris River flood</span>

The 2011 Souris/Mouse River flood in Canada and the United States occurred in June and was greater than a hundred-year flooding event for the river. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimated the flood to have a recurrence interval of two to five centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project</span>

The Fargo-Moorhead (FM) Area Diversion Project is a flood control project on the Red River of the North that borders North Dakota to the west and Minnesota to the east. It was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metro Flood Diversion Authority. The project was expected to begin construction in early 2017 at a cost of $2.2 Billion.