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Sen. Byron Dorgan, Published March 07 2010

If states don’t act on a valley flood compact, the Senate will

The Forum March 2 editorial about valleywide flood protection is on

the mark.

I have been a strong supporter of the flood protection programs for Wahpeton-Brecken-ridge, Grand Forks-East Grand Forks and Fargo-Moorhead. I’ve worked hard to get funding to complete the first two projects, and I am working to get planning and design funding for the Fargo-Moorhead project while local officials decide what kind of a flood control project they want.

However, just steering the floodwaters through the three major population centers in the Red River Valley is not all that can or should be done to reduce flooding.

Even as we work to try to build a comprehensive flood control project for Fargo and Moorhead, we have to pay more attention to the flood problem in the entire valley. There are small towns and rural areas that remain unprotected.

Developing a more comprehensive flood control project for the entire Red River Valley would mean more water retention and therefore greater protection for the entire valley. This comprehensive approach would reduce the flood threat to population centers, and also reduce the flood threat to the rest of the Red River Valley. In short, spending a lot of money just to steer high water through the major cities must be accompanied by aggressive plans for more storage and retention of water to protect the broader Red River Valley.

At the meeting I convened in Washington, D.C., last May with my legislative colleagues from our region, as well as state and local officials, I proposed creating either a compact between the states, or a federal authority with the requirement to pursue the wider valley flood control. One way or another, there needs to be an entity created that has the capability to plan and develop the broader water retention projects needed.

Since the meeting last May, there has been no action to create a compact between the states to accomplish that goal. I have indicated that if the states do not proceed, I would work to create a federal authority to accomplish it.

I know there are plenty of water boards and commissions working on water and flooding issues in the Red River Basin. But none of them have the authority to make decisions that will really make things happen.

The need for a broader authority was recognized just a year ago in the North Dakota State Legislature.

That proposal was right then and it is right now. Even though some of its sponsors say they have changed their minds, I think it is very important for all of us to recognize that more needs to be done. And the only way basinwide flood control will be achieved is through the creation of an entity with appropriate authority at either the state or the federal level.

It doesn’t have to be a federal creation. If the states create a compact with real authority, that is something I would fully support.

In the coming months, if North Dakota and Minnesota do not create a compact with that authority, I will attempt to create one in federal law. Why? Because while we work to protect the major cities, we also can do much more to reduce the flood threat in the entire valley.

Dorgan, D-N.D., has served in the U.S. Senate since 1992. He is retiring this year.