Fargo’s Red River Stream Gauge
On this date in 1901, a stream gauge began keeping tabs on the Red River. Established on a Fargo-Moorhead bridge by the U.S. Geologic Survey, the stream gauge was a vertical staff attached to a pier. The gauge was later moved, discontinued and reestablished many times. Today, it rests at a water plant east of 13th Avenue South on the river’s edge.
Fargo’s stream gauge has seen the Red River’s many highs and lows. From 1932 to 1941, the river often didn’t even flow. Contrast that with 2009, when a record height of 40.84 feet was measured. Eighteen feet is considered flood stage.
The gauge at Fargo is one of several century-old stream gauges in North Dakota. The others are in Devils Lake, Minot, Neche and Grand Forks. The Minot stream gauge was also established on May 5th, but that came in 1903, two years after the one at Fargo. But Grand Forks holds the longevity honors, with its stream gauge measuring river discharge since 1882.
In 1989, real-time data became available from the Fargo gauge, and now it’s even available on Twitter – detailing daily water levels with flood comparisons. You can follow it @redriveratfargo.
The Geological Survey operates gauges on most major tributaries in the Red River Valley. There are approximately 150 within the river’s Basin, 64 of them in North Dakota. The basin covers 111,000 square miles in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Manitoba. Hydrologic data from Fargo’s gauge as well as the other gauges are available online from the U-S Geologic Survey.
Fargo owes a lot to its reliable, old stream gauge. From measuring the water of record floods to no streamflow at all, the value of a stream gauge is one you can’t put a number on.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura
Legault, L. H., Gourd, R., Murphy, C. F., Baldini, T. L, Bayh, S. B., & Chamberlin, A. (2000). Living with the red: A report to the governments of Canada and the United States on reducing flood impacts in the red river basin. Washington, D.C.: International Joint Commission Offices.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (1988). Technical source service, Red River of the North (Vol. 1). North Dakota: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
U.S. Geologic Survey. (2013, April 8). USGS river gauge records 100 years of data: 05054000 Red river of the north at Fargo, North Dakota – 110 years. U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved from