OUR OPINION: Peterson’s idea could transform valleyFor all of these reasons, scientists, elected officials and the public in both Minnesota and North Dakota should start paying close attention. The water-retention idea is enormous and could dramatically change valley communities’ flood risks.
By: Tom Dennis for the Herald, Grand Forks Herald
Congressman Collin Peterson’s iron determination to secure federal funding to help pay for Red River Valley water retention projects is hugely encouraging.
By lowering the height of the Red River in flood, the projects could remove the biggest local barrier to a diversion project on the west side of Fargo-Moorhead: the opposition of downstream communities.
In fact, given the reality that the diversion probably could not be built if opposition persists, Peterson’s plan deserves as much attention as the diversion has been getting.
After all, the costs of the diversion and the retention plans are comparable: in the neighborhood of $1 billion each. The impacts would be comparable, too.
In fact, the retention project probably would affect more people: Peterson envisions a giant effort to install drain tile, retention basins and/or “waffle plan” structures across much of the valley, all with the goal of lowering the river crests in times of flood (and by doing so, reducing the downstream impact of a Fargo-Moorhead diversion).
Crop yields also would be affected and also for the better, Peterson suggests.
In addition, Peterson’s plan calls for the federal government to pay half of the retention project’s billion-dollar cost. The other $500 million is to come from the valley’s watershed area and the states (Minnesota and North Dakota).
Securing hundreds of millions of new dollars from those sources is not a sure thing.
For all of these reasons, scientists, elected officials and the public in both Minnesota and North Dakota should start paying close attention. The water-retention idea is enormous and could dramatically change valley communities’ flood risks.
Valley residents and officials now must start kicking the idea’s tires — because if the idea survives the tough scrutiny, then the valley will gain the one asset it absolutely needs to move the plan through Washington, St. Paul and Bismarck: consensus.
What kind of consensus is needed?
The consensus behind the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative gives an idea.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative helps farmers implement conservation measures in and around Chesapeake Bay. Peterson steered many millions of dollars into the project in the 2008 Farm Bill and suggests that effort is a model for the upcoming retention plan.
But before Congress approved of it, the Chesapeake Bay project had wide input from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trust for Public Land, the agriculture department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other groups as well as six states. Those voices speaking seemingly as one helped dampen objections to the effort and saw the idea through to becoming law.
Peterson already is briefing local groups such as the Red River Basin Commission. Now it’s time for other interested parties to start tracking this fascinating idea, testing it — and supporting it if the tests prove out.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald