ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

OUR OPINION: Benefits of retention reach beyond Fargo

Now, it's Fargo-Moorhead's turn. Thanks to its close call with catastrophic flooding earlier this year, Fargo-Moorhead is engaged in a great debate about flood protection, similar to the debate Grand Forks and East Grand Forks had in 1997-98.

Now, it's Fargo-Moorhead's turn. Thanks to its close call with catastrophic flooding earlier this year, Fargo-Moorhead is engaged in a great debate about flood protection, similar to the debate Grand Forks and East Grand Forks had in 1997-98.

Fargo and Moorhead are looking at their options, including dikes, diversions, property buyouts, retention and so on. (As part of an ongoing series on flood protection, The Forum newspaper in Fargo ran through the pros and cons of the various options Sunday.)

But Fargo-Moorhead's debate should interest Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and most other cities along the Red River, including Winnipeg.

That's because one of those options is not like the others.

The option that stands out is retention, because its benefits would extend beyond Fargo-Moorhead to potentially include all of those other cities.

ADVERTISEMENT

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be sure to count all of those benefits when the Corps costs out retention among the various options.

Retention simply is storing water upstream before it gets to the Red River. Among the retention methods that have been proposed are building more dams on the watershed's major tributaries and using the network of existing roads -- the "waffle" -- to hold back snowmelt and rainwater.

Early indications are that Fargo-Moorhead will wind up with a solution similar to the one in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks: a widened riverbed flanked by high dikes. That would be a very good thing. Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents are grateful for the protection that the dikes offer and tremendously enjoy the newly landscaped and accessible green space -- the Greenway -- along the riverbanks.

But the local dikes don't provide full security, residents know. They protect against 1997-sized floods but probably would be topped by an 1826-sized event.

Red River water from that event reportedly reached the land that the Grand Forks airport now occupies. Such a flood almost certainly is in the valley's future; the only question is when.

That's where retention comes in -- retention, in addition to the principal method (such as dikes) that Fargo-Moorhead chooses to pursue.

A new dike system would protect Fargo-Moorhead to a certain level of high water on the Red River, just as Grand Forks now is protected.

A retention system would lop "x" number of feet off of that high water -- in Fargo and Moorhead, but also in Grand Forks, Drayton, Pembina, Winnipeg and so on.

ADVERTISEMENT

In an epic flood, that could make the difference between the river topping the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks dikes or the cities staying dry. And those are the kinds of benefits the Corps must count.

In the Netherlands, Amsterdam is protected against a one-in-10,000-year flood event. Flood protection never will be that strong in Grand Forks or even Winnipeg.

But it could made stronger in both cities than it is today, and stronger than is being planned for Fargo. Retention holds back water but spreads benefits far and wide -- and Army hydrologists should be sure to take note.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Related Topics: FARGO-MOORHEAD DIVERSION
What To Read Next