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Fargo-Moorhead diversion idea knocked by Peterson

FARGO The option of a Red River diversion on the Moorhead side of the river may already be dead in the water, if comments made Tuesday by Minnesota officials are any sign of things to come. "I think the chances of there being a diversion on the M...

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District. (Bemidji Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson)


The option of a Red River diversion on the Moorhead side of the river may already be dead in the water, if comments made Tuesday by Minnesota officials are any sign of things to come.

"I think the chances of there being a diversion on the Minnesota side are about minus 5 percent," Rep. Collin Peterson,D-Minn., said during a stop at the Clay County Courthouse in Moorhead.

"I just don't see it," he added. "With all the problems there are there, it doesn't make any sense. You'd have to dig it deeper. It's going to cost a ton of money. I just don't think there's any way it's ever going to happen."

Any illusions that the march toward a permanent flood-control solution will be a smooth hands-across-the-river affair dissolved during the 45-minute discussion among Peterson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Moorhead, Clay County and local watershed officials.


Peterson's comment was one of several knocks on the $909 million diversion, as well as on Fargo's push to build a $161 million Southside Flood Control Project.

Klobuchar opened Tuesday's meeting by saying she thinks Minnesota can work with North Dakota on a plan, but added it's "more than just about Fargo.

"It's also about Moorhead and the entire Minnesota side," she said.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a preliminary study with two main options for permanent flood control for Fargo-Moorhead:

E The 30-mile diversion would start at the confluence of the Red and Wild Rice rivers south of Fargo and run through Minnesota to a point northwest of Kragnes.

E A levee plan calls for $625 million in dikes along the Red River, including the southside project.

State Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said it seems "a little strange" that the diversion would run through Minnesota when the Moorhead side of the river is about 4 feet higher in elevation than Fargo and would only see 20 percent of the benefit. The diversion's width would require 2,000 feet of right of way, much of it prime farmland.

"I don't want to start a border fight or anything, but it kind of seems to me that we're giving a whole lot more on that plan than what we would get out of it," Langseth said.


Retired farmer Marc Nokken, who owns land south of Moorhead, also criticized the diversion, saying he "can't understand why they're trying to run water uphill."

He frowned upon the notion of giving up Minnesota farmland to protect development in south Fargo.

"They made a mistake. They built in a flood plain, and they're trying to cover their rear ends at our expense," Nokken said.

Moorhead City Council member Mark Hintermeyer questioned why Fargo is in a "full-court press" to start the southside project when a diversion could potentially drop the river level by 5 feet during times of flooding.

"Because they have an impatient mayor," said fellow council member Diane Wray Williams, referring to Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.

"Well, they have an impatient populace, too, I think," Peterson said. "I think, to be fair, they're getting a lot of pressure from their residents."

Walaker said he and other Fargo officials aren't impatient, but rather tired of having to resort to temporary flood-fighting measures year after year.

The southside project was conceived shortly after the 1997 flood and has been in the serious design stage for four years. It's already been reworked once to reduce the impact on the Red River, Walaker said.


"Is four years long enough to come up with the proper plan? I think it is," Walaker said.

Officials should wait until the corps completes its cost-benefit analysis on the various flood-control options and recommends a preferred alternative before trying to torpedo any one option, Walaker said.

Corps officials have said they hope to finalize the study by September 2010.

"Let's give the engineers an opportunity to do the study, and then we can debate the options," Walaker said.

Peterson believes a cheaper alternative to the diversion is to store more water upstream during times of flooding.

However, as one person at the meeting pointed out, a 2005 report by the corps said it would take a system of impoundments - dams, wetlands or farmland set aside for holding water - capable of holding 400,000 acres of 1-foot-deep water to reduce the 100-year flood elevation in Fargo-Moorhead by 1.6 feet.

That's the equivalent of seven dams the size of the Maple River Dam, finished in 2006 near Enderlin, N.D. - a dam that took more than 20 years to get built.

Peterson said he doesn't believe the corps has explored all storage options.


The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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