ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

OUR OPINION: Act now to stop Red River from running dry

Thanks to the dike system, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are protected against a 100-year flood. But the cities remain acutely vulnerable to a 100-year drought. That's why the Red River Valley Water Supply Project is so important. The project ...

Thanks to the dike system, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are protected against a 100-year flood.

But the cities remain acutely vulnerable to a 100-year drought.

That's why the Red River Valley Water Supply Project is so important. The project is the valley's "long-term care insurance," as it will protect communities up and down the river against a catastrophically expensive-and all too likely-event.

So, it deserves all the attention and money that it's getting from local officials. And more: Residents should do their part, too.

For the 2017 session of the North Dakota Legislature will be key. And if eastern North Dakota lawmakers unite on this issue before going to Bismarck, they'll stand a very good chance of passing the legislation that the project needs.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sure, the prospect of disastrous drought seems remote. Turn on your kitchen tap in Grand Forks, Fargo or other communities in the valley, and water will gush out, fresh and clear.

But remember: Before it gets treated, that water is drawn in most cases from the Red River. And consider these words from Dennis Walaker, former mayor of Fargo, which he offered when he testified before a Senate subcommittee a few years ago:

"Between 1932 and 1940, there were 800 days when the Red River ceased to flow," Walaker said.

"That's an average of 100 days per year between 1932 and 1940."

Now, imagine the Red River-the region's key natural resource, the water source upon which every Grand Forks resident, business and institution depends-running dry for 100 days per year for the next eight years.

Imagine being able to get from Grand Forks to East Grand Forks by walking across the dry river channel.

You'll see that renewed flooding is not the only natural disaster that could ruin the cities. Extended drought could, too.

Moreover, as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported in 2005, "the fundamental conclusion of the (drought-frequency) study was that the 1930s drought was not an anomaly occurring every 1,000 years.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It was a climatic event likely to be repeated before 2050."

The project would bring treated Missouri River water via canal and pipeline to the Sheyenne River, from which it would flow into the Red. Over the years, critics have questioned the project's cost, environmental effects and impacts on the Missouri River's downstream cities and states.

But those criticisms have been answered: While the project would cost $1 billion, it would be cost-effective, partly because gravity would be doing the waterflow work, and partly because an extended drought could cost $20 billion or more.

Thoroughly treating the water as planned would resolve Canada's concerns about Missouri River water reaching the Red. And as for the Missouri River's downstream cities and states, here's how former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness once described the volume of water involved:

"If you consider all of the water in the Missouri River as a bucket of water, a gallon of water, what we're taking out of that is a very small amount. We are taking out less than half a thimble full of that water ... (It would be) less than the fountains in Kansas City use just for decorative use."

Realistic, cost-effective, widely supported and vital: that's the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. As the 2017 legislative session approaches, the project deserves North Dakotans' full support.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Related Topics: RED RIVER
Opinion by Thomas Dennis
What To Read Next