Volunteers work to build a sandbag levee after flood water began to seep through an existing levee near the Timberline subdivision March 19, 2010 in Fargo, North Dakota. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The bags, and their sand, will have to go. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Mark Memmott

Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately?) the flood-weary residents along the Red River in Minnesota and North Dakota have plenty of experience not only in putting up clay dikes and walls of sandbags -- but in taking them down, too.

And with the waters beginning to recede in places such as Fargo, N.D., and its cross-river cousin Moorhead, Minn., one question that those of us who aren't used to this soggy spring ritual have is this: What happens to all the bags, sand and clay?

Well, the bags are mostly destroyed -- the wear and tear takes a lot out of them. But lots of sand gets spread on fields and used in road projects. Some, if it has been contaminated with sewage or chemicals, has to go to treatment facilities. And a substantial amount gets saved for use the next year.

Getting rid of it all isn't always cheap. Last year, as InForum reported, about 2.5 million sandbags were filled and placed in Fargo alone to keep back the Red. One contract for removal cost the Army Corps of Engineers $1 million.

But often, as Moorhead city manager Micahel Redlinger explained to All Things Considered host Melissa Block this afternoon, residents themselves help take down the walls. And Moorhead saves as much of the sand as it can. About half of the 15,000 yards of sand the city used this year was material saved from last year's flood control effort.

The folks in Moorhead filled about 350,000 bags this year, well below last year's 2.5 million that were used to keep back the record high crest.

Here's a sample of what Redlinger had to say:

Long term, of course, the answer is likely to be a flood-control project that redirects the water in spring.

Much more from the conversation is due on today's edition of ATC. Click here to find an NPR station near you that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, the as-broadcast version of the discussion will be posted here.

categories: National News, Nature, Weather

3:05 - March 22, 2010