Wild Rice River permanently rerouted in major milestone for F-M flood diversion

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the permanent diverting of the Wild Rice is a historic move that marks significant progress in the flood protection project.

On a snowy, muddy landscape, about 20 people in bright yellow and orange safety vests are dwarfed by a looming concrete structure through which water is flowing.
Members of Ames Construction, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local government and the media watch the Wild Rice River flow through the Wild Rice River Structure after being permanently diverted on Friday, March 31, 2023.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — For the first time, the Wild Rice River is flowing in a different channel as part of the F-M Flood Diversion, marking an important stage in the metro flood control project still under construction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permanently rerouted the Wild Rice into a gated concrete structure just south of St. Benedict shortly after sunrise on Friday, March 31.

Corps employees, members of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, media and others shuffled carefully on slippery, frozen mud in the construction site to see an excavator move large scoops of soil, allowing water to flow.

A yellow CAT excavator scoops mud out of shallow water.
An excavator opens a plug to reroute the Wild Rice River through the Wild Rice River Structure on Friday, March 31, 2023. This reroute will allow Ames to complete construction of a dam embankment across the existing Wild Rice River channel.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who was among those watching, said it almost brought him to tears knowing the F-M metro will likely face major flooding this spring and that permanent flood protection for the area is drawing near.

“There’s just so much more awareness in the community right now because of all the snow. … You feel that vulnerability,” he said.


The Corps said the concrete structure will not be used to control flooding until the entire diversion project is finished, likely in the spring of 2027.

“It’s not soon enough, but it's really fun to see it getting closer and closer,” Mahoney said.


The Wild Rice structure is part of the congressionally authorized $3.2 billion project that includes two other gated control structures and a 30-mile diversion channel in North Dakota to be used during major floods.

Duane Perkins, the Corps’ lead structural engineer for the F-M flood control structures, called Friday’s event a huge milestone for the project.

“For me, growing up in Breckenridge (Minnesota), seeing the flooding happen there and actually being able to provide flood protection to Fargo is a pretty special day,” Perkins said.

Knowing the Wild Rice River will forever take a different path is historic.

"It will always go through this for long, long after I'm dead and gone," Perkins said.

A person in a bright yellow safety vest looks tiny next to the massive concrete structure with two large rectangles open to let water flow through.
A crew member with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overlooks the rerouted Wild Rice River flowing through the Wild Rice Control Structure on Friday, March 31, 2023. The concrete control structure has two 40-foot-wide Tainter gates.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The colder than average temperatures and frozen ground have likely been better for the contractor, he said.


The river rerouting will allow Ames Construction Inc. to finish a dam embankment across the existing Wild Rice River channel to tie into an Interstate 29 embankment, the Corps said.

Tony Feilzer, administrative contracting officer with the Corps, said workers also have to put in permanent power to the gate controls, which are connected to temporary power for now.

The Wild Rice control structure should be finished by December, he said.

Perkins said the Wild Rice structure is made up of two 40-foot wide bays and measures about 70 feet from top of foundation to the top of bridge. The much larger Red River structure will have three 50-foot wide bays and pushes 90 feet in height.

“The Wild Rice is like the little brother, and the Red is the big brother … then the diversion inlet structure is kind of like a cousin. You can see some similarities, but it’s just a little bit different,” Perkins said.

Work is still ongoing on the diversion inlet structure and on the Red River control structure, with a permanent rerouting of the Red’s flow anticipated in the next two to three years.

Until then, employees marveled at the progress thus far and marked the Wild Rice rerouting’s place in history.


“I’m glad to be here to witness it,” Feilzer said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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