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Published February 20, 2012, 08:15 AM

Retention improves diversion

FARGO, N.D. — It should come as no surprise that water management officials in the Red River Valley are vigorously pursuing water storage options as part of an overall permanent flood protection strategy. But aggressive water retention in the mostly flat Red River Valley is not the cure-all for flooding. Holding water on the land is a necessary element in the larger flood protection equation.

By: Fargo (N.D.) Forum, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — It should come as no surprise that water management officials in the Red River Valley are vigorously pursuing water storage options as part of an overall permanent flood protection strategy. But aggressive water retention in the mostly flat Red River Valley is not the cure-all for flooding. Holding water on the land is a necessary element in the larger flood protection equation. The most important factor for long-term, permanent protection is the proposed Red River Diversion around Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.

No one who has made an honest assessment of flood risk doubts the efficacy of a diversion. Opponents will find fault with details of the project, but the purpose and promise of a diversion are unambiguous.

Part of the plan

It’s also important to emphasize that retention always has been in the mix. While a widespread retention plan cannot be a direct provision of the diversion project, retention as complementary to a diversion has been taken seriously since the diversion option was advanced several years ago. That intention is taking shape as a Red River Retention Authority Board ramps up its effort in tandem with Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who is working to include retention funding in the wetlands reserve program of the new farm bill.

Again, it’s old news that Peterson wants to secure as much as $238 million for five eligible regional water projects. By using the farm bill for the water projects, Peterson hopes to guarantee a source of funding for retention in the valley for at least 10 years. That time period comports well with the time frame for construction of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion. In other words, significant retention could be in place before the diversion became operational.

Holding back water

One result of a successful retention program will be to reduce volumes of water that would have to be backed up in holding areas at the head of the diversion south of Fargo. Fears that as much as 7 to 10 feet of water would inundate farms, rural homes, businesses and entire communities might be lessened if it can be demonstrated that less water will be held back in those infrequent years of extreme flooding.

While some diversion antagonists are so set against the project that no common-sense solutions will satisfy them, the eye must be kept on the prize: the diversion. It’s the only cost-effective means of providing permanent flood protection for a thriving urban center that shows every sign of continued growth and prosperity. And the “big one” certainly will happen, if not this year or next year, some year. Just ask the people of Minot, N.D. Just ask the people of Grand Forks, N.D.

Editor’s Note: The Fargo (N.D.) Forum and Agweek are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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