Trana Rogne: Basinwide protection? Not if pricey diversion goes through
KINDRED, N.D. -- The Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area Flood Risk Management plan differs greatly from the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks flood-protection project.
While Grand Forks and East Grand Forks used green space to solve most of their problems, the Fargo plan sacrifices rural areas in order to allow development where green space should be.
The F-M Diversion has levees, dams, ring dikes and five river crossings. As the project still is in the design phase, other features are yet to be finalized.
Relocations of farm headquarters, crop insurance, ice jam controls, flowage easements and the flooding of 14 cemeteries are among the issues still to be resolved.
The F-M Diversion is composed of a diversion ditch/levee around Fargo, a dam on the Red River and a dam on North Dakota's Wild Rice River, with the construction of higher levees on the Red River letting water flow through Fargo and Moorhead at an elevation of 42.5 feet. The levees will provide for more flow through town.
The two dams will flood 50,000 acres of farmland for the storage of 150,000 acre feet of water at a depth of 12 feet. The water would be contained by the levee along the diversion channel south of Fargo.
Most of the storage area is at a higher elevation than the south Fargo flood plain that is to be protected. In this storage/staging area, there will be ring dikes around four communities. They are to be ring-diked so that the area around them can be flooded by the operation of the dam and levee system.
This is in spite of the fact these communities currently are protected or above the flood plain elevation.
The location of the diversion levee/ditch and the dam on the Red River determines how much land is taken out of the natural flood plain. According to the Corps project documents, the dam and levee were located to provide for the future growth of Fargo at Fargo's (the local sponsor) request.
In a news release on April 28, 2011, Shannon Bauer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had this to say: "The plan has been carefully studied and would remove much of the Fargo-Moorhead area from the regulatory flood plain".
So, of what "value" is the F-M diversion project for Grand Forks and the surrounding area?
In short, absolutely nothing. It does not provide any benefits for the flood-risk reduction in the area.
"The city of East Grand Forks stated that the impacts of the project on the city need to be mitigated," the project's environmental assessment notes.
The response from the Corps: "(S)tage and duration impacts are minor, and the federal project completed for the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks will provide adequate protection from potential downstream impacts."
Furthermore, the plan does not provide for a safety margin in case of a local extreme weather event. In fact, the modeling for simultaneous flood conditions on the five tributaries leading to the Red River has not been done.
Does the F-M Diversion provide an economic benefit for the Grand Forks area? If the flood risk is not reduced, it is hard to see an economic benefit.
Though it does reduce the funds available for other necessary projects in the area by using state and federal money to "protect" Fargo only.
The concern is that if $2 billion is spent for the benefit of Fargo, this will hurt the prospects for any basinwide flood mitigation projects.
In fact, in case of a major flood, the project virtually guarantees Fargo will be the only place left. As a lead Corps engineer said to the Richland and Wilkin County commissioners, "You will still have Fargo to shop at."
The dam/levee operational plan is to release the overflow to the unprotected valley areas to the west and north, resulting in federal expenditures for a major valley disaster.
In short, there are no benefits for Grand Forks, the northern valley areas or the state or for the federal government, for that matter. All that matters to Fargo is the lure of an unregulated flood plain to develop.
Trana Rogne is chairman of the steering committee for the MNDak Upstream Coalition.