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Published March 29 2010

What about storage? River diversion not the only issue on official’s mind

Jake Gust is well-versed in the benefits of river diversions. He oversees the one protecting West Fargo from the Sheyenne River.

On his farm between Fargo and Harwood, Gust also benefits from a water storage project. The Maple River Dam upstream near Enderlin, N.D., keeps the floodwaters that flow across roads and through fields around his property from rising even higher.

Now that leaders in Fargo-Moorhead and Cass and Clay counties last week endorsed a Red River diversion project on the North Dakota side, Gust wants to make sure they don’t let the need for water storage – and how to pay for it – fall by the wayside.

“I think we need to get this out into the open and start addressing it,” he said.

Gust is superintendent of the Sheyenne Diversion, and he spent his 24-year political career on the West Fargo City Commission seeing it to fruition.

Just as the F-M diversion has its detractors, namely downstream residents worried about its potential to boost river levels in their communities, the two Sheyenne diversions protecting West Fargo and Horace also faced opposition because of their impacts and costs, Gust said.

To sell the projects, officials pledged to build water storage upstream to mitigate the diversions’ impacts downstream.

The West Fargo diversion opened in spring 1992, but the storage components weren’t completed until more than a decade later. A 5-foot raise of Baldhill Dam near Valley City wrapped up in 2004, and the $30 million Maple River Dam became operational in summer 2006.

Gust said he’d like to see a diversion and storage move along more in step this time around.

“We have to pick up costs, and I’m saying now’s the time to get everybody on board to commit to that,” he said.

However, Jeffry Volk of West Fargo-based Moore Engineering, which designed the Maple River Dam and Sheyenne Diversion, cautions against tying the two projects together.

Dams and diversions have different jurisdictional boundaries, funding mechanisms and processes for approval, he said.

For example, the Army Corps of Engineers supported the Sheyenne Diversion but wouldn’t participate in the Maple River Dam. Volk doesn’t expect the corps to pay for storage as part of the F-M diversion now under its study.

“In my mind, it’s important that retention be built,” he said. “I personally don’t think that the two should be hamstrung to each other.”

Moore Engineering and Houston Engineering were recently hired by the Southeast Cass Rural Water Resource District and the city of Fargo to analyze the water retention issue for the Metro Flood Study Work Group.

They estimated that, based on Red River levels just upstream of Fargo, it would take 200,000 acre-feet of storage – more than three Maple River Dams – to offset the North Dakota diversion’s impacts on river levels downstream.

“What we do know is that you can store enough to mitigate it, but it’s probably going to be expensive and time-consuming to meet that goal,” Volk said. “But I think it has to be pursued.”

Where that storage will be built is unknown, but at least one site has been identified on the main stem of the Wild Rice River near Mantador, N.D., Volk said. The site would hold about 40,000 acres of water 1 foot deep, he said.

Gust, a member of the Red River Basin Commission, which is working on a comprehensive, long-term flood control plan for the basin, said officials also have explored potential storage sites on the Sheyenne River near Kindred and Lisbon, but Volk said those ideas are more conceptual at this point.

Gust said the Maple River Dam proves storage can make a difference. He expected the dam to be full by this past weekend, and he estimated its 60,000-acre-feet of storage took about 6 inches off of peak water levels in his area.

“It’s significant,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528