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Published March 26, 2014, 11:33 AM

ND flood protection plan prompts water worries

The proposal also could contribute to a Red River Basin Authority objective of achieving a 20 percent peak flow reduction in the mainstem of the Red River during the spring flood season. Engineers have determined that a 20 percent reduction, had it been in place during the Flood of 1997, would have prevented the flood disaster in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

By: Kevin Bonham, Agweek

INKSTER, N.D. — The Forest River forms the north border of Richard and Diane McDonald’s land, about a half-mile north of their home. Yet they’ve never been flooded.

So, they’re more than a little puzzled by a flood protection proposal that would divert water from the Forest River for more than a mile to be stored on land they farm that’s even farther away from the river.

“I’m sure engineering-wise it might make some sense, but you have to use some common sense,” Diane McDonald says. “We don’t experience flooding now. There’s got to be some other land someplace that’s already getting water that could hold more water.”

She was among about 80 people who flooded the Farmers Room of the Walsh County Courthouse in Grafton, N.D., Tuesday to listen to engineers and water managers explain a plan that could provide flood protection to the city of Minto, N.D.

The proposal also could contribute to a Red River Basin Authority objective of achieving a 20 percent peak flow reduction in the mainstem of the Red River during the spring flood season. Engineers have determined that a 20 percent reduction, had it been in place during the Flood of 1997, would have prevented the flood disaster in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

“This is really conceptual, to see what kind of benefits you’d have upstream and downstream,” says Zach Herrmann, a civil engineer with Houston Engineering, which conducted the feasibility study for the Walsh County Water Resource District.

Options

The proposed project, which includes four alternatives, could include just the first, Alternative A, or add Alternatives B, C and or D, which would increase both the level of flood protection and cost.

Under the initial proposal, the first three alternatives would be designed to reduce flooding:

Alternative A, called the Ardoch Coulee Bypass, would divert Forest River water directly to the Ardoch Coulee, south of the city of Forest River, and then flow to Lake Ardoch and the Ardoch National Wildlife Refuge, before re-entering the river southeast of Minto.

Alternative B, referred to as the Miller Diversion, would move Forest River water from just northeast of the city of Forest River to bypass Minto. Estimated cost: $4.4 million.

Alternative C would include on-channel water detention, including a control structure on the Forest River. This alternative has potential adverse effects for the Forest River Biology Area, a UND-owned and maintained 160-acre natural habitat, according to Phyllis Johnson, UND vice president for economic development and research.

Alternative D would add off-channel water detention components to the project. They could hold water on farmland for perhaps 8 to 10 days during peak flows during major floods.

One would call for storing water in Sections 10 and 15 of Strabane Township in Grand Forks County, land that the McDonalds and their neighbors farm. The other would be another retention site in Sections 7 and 18 in Johnstown Township.

The potential estimated costs range from $7 million for Alternative A to $49.7 million for the entire project, and local costs from $4.1 million to a $13.9 million.

“We’re all in this together,” says Larry Tanke, Walsh County water board chairman. “We are tasked with reducing peak flood flows by 20 percent basinwide. We’re doing our part.”

The next step is to complete a more detailed feasibility study, which would include a cost-benefit analysis, as well as issues such as potential environmental reviews.

An initial draft of that study could be completed within a couple of months, according to Herrmann. However, any project, if built at all, likely is at least five years, perhaps as long as 15 years, from construction, according to Herrmann.

Retention projects

Proponents said North Dakota is playing catch-up to Minnesota in terms of planning and building watershed retention projects in the Red River Basin. Nine watershed retention projects already have been modeled or are built in Minnesota.

Pat Fridgen, who represents the North Dakota State Water Commission on the Red River Basin Authority, cited two projects — the Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District, based in Warren, Minn., and the North Ottawa Impoundment Project in the Bois de Sioux Watershed District near the source of the Red River — that already have demonstrated benefits to communities, as well as farmers.

“These are meant to be dry dams, so you can hold back some of the water for a short amount of time and then let it go, once the peak flood threat has passed, and you can get back to farming,” he says.

In the case of the North Ottawa Impoundment, the water district owns the land and rents it to farmers.

“They’re paying quite a bit of rent to farm that land,” he says. “After the water is moved off, they’re growing sugar beets.”

The Forest River proposal, including one or all of the alternatives, would benefit the city of Forest River, according to Mayor Ivan Muir. Yet, he has mixed feelings about it, because he farms land that would be included in the two proposed water retention areas.

“I haven’t made up my mind about it yet,” he says. “I’m not too sure about the detention.”

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