MATTERS AT HAND: Let's face the truth about flood control
Flooding is imminent. Something must be done long-term. These twin challenges pretty much define life in the Red River Valley as spring approaches. Flooding is certain. Major flooding is likely. The chances are close to 100 percent in Fargo and M...
Flooding is imminent.
Something must be done long-term.
These twin challenges pretty much define life in the Red River Valley as spring approaches.
Flooding is certain. Major flooding is likely. The chances are close to 100 percent in Fargo and Moorhead, and 70 percent in Grand Forks.
Grand Forks has permanent flood protection, achieved after the 1997 flood.
The F-M Metro area is at risk.
Flood preparations are under way there, and Fargo and Moorhead might escape again, as they did last year.
But that's the best-case scenario.
Fargo is North Dakota's largest city. Moorhead ranks 25th in Minnesota, and fifth outside the Twin Cities Metro.
It's folly to leave these communities exposed to repeated flooding.
Probably everyone recognizes that.
It's not clear that everybody's ready to do something about it.
Nearly every day brings new objections to options suggested for flood control.
The first of these is a system of floodwalls and permanent levees, much like those protecting Grand Forks.
Such a system presents unique problems in Fargo and Moorhead. The river winds through the metro. Here, it takes a straighter course. Fargo and Moorhead are built close to the river. Grand Forks began retreating from the river after a flood in 1897.
Much of the major difference is that flooding took out low-lying buildings in Grand Forks. Temporary dikes held water back in Fargo.
At least so far.
Of course, holding back water creates a feeling of invincibility. And it fosters denial, as Grand Forks residents learned in 1997.
So, dikes and floodwalls have been rejected in Fargo and Moorhead.
The alternative is to divert water around the cities.
The problem is which route to take.
A route on the North Dakota side is everyone's preference -- except perhaps for the taxpayers'.
A route in Minnesota would be much cheaper, and the federal government would provide more of the cost.
Any diversion would take private property. Any diversion would be in the way of future growth. And any diversion would have some impact on flooding farther downstream.
These truths bedevil planning for flood protection.
The Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would deny state funding to any project that didn't protect downstream communities.
The mayor of Dilworth, just east of Moorhead, said his community wouldn't accept a diversion on the Minnesota side of the river because it would block growth there.
Landowners along the river argue that water ought to be stored on tributaries, and on somebody else's property.
Planners for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers favor the Minnesota plan, partly on practical political grounds. The ratio of cost to benefit is greater, and Congress is likely to prefer it. Recommending a different plan -- the North Dakota alternative -- might delay approval and push back effective flood control.
Of course, it's ludicrous to imagine that Minnesota won't be expected to pay part of the cost of flood control. About a third of the metro population is in Minnesota.
And it's unrealistic that downstream communities can block effective flood protection in Fargo and Moorhead.
Nor can any community expect that its own growth can block flood protection for the rest of the area.
Concessions are going to be necessary.
Of course, property owners in the way of a diversion project must be fairly compensated.
Of course, communities that might face increased flooding will have to be protected, or moved out of the way.
Of course, the cost of flood protection will have to be shared.
Some water might be stored away from the river in times of flood. The so-called waffle plan has the most promise in this regard, and it should be considered seriously.
A prominent landowner and former North Dakota legislator suggested going farther in a letter to the editor published here Saturday. Enoch Thorsgaard urged that the governor declare an emergency requiring that culverts be plugged and water held in fields.
Thorsgaard's suggestion reflects the urgency of today's flood threat.
Still, it's far from clear that enough water could be stored to prevent significant flooding.
So, some larger, more site-specific flood protection projects will be necessary.
The faster these truths are faced, the faster real flood protection can be achieved.