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Patrick Springer, Published April 02 2010

Williams backs Redpath storage plan

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams wants the city to help build an upstream water retention project in Minnesota as part of comprehensive flood control efforts.

At Monday’s commission meeting, Williams will advocate contributing city flood control funds to the Redpath project, which Minnesota water officials want to build in the Bois de Sioux watershed near Wheaton.

Redpath, which would store water equal to a pond covering 21,700 acres at a depth of 1 foot, could be the first of what Williams hopes would be a series of retention projects benefiting Fargo-Moorhead.

“We can start with the Redpath project,” he said.

Williams also will recommend establishing a rating system to determine the benefits of upstream water retention projects to guide city investments in flood control measures augmenting a proposed $1.3 billion diversion channel.

Also Monday, in separate meetings, the Fargo City Commission and Cass County Commission will consider rival proposals to levy a new half-cent sales tax to raise money for the diversion.

Williams said helping to build the Redpath project would add to ongoing efforts to store water on tributaries upstream from the Red River to protect Fargo-Moorhead.

Many agree water storage projects are an important component of a comprehensive program, which local officials also hope will include the billion-dollar diversion channel, to protect Fargo-Moorhead against a 500-year flood.

Fargo’s contribution also would send a strong signal to others, especially the state of Minnesota, demonstrating the city’s willingness to collaborate on flood control, Williams told The Forum editorial board.

If the evaluation formula determined the Redpath project’s benefit to the city would be 1 percent of a project with a roughly

$25 million price tag, the city would contribute $250,000, he said.

“It’s the best $250,000 I can think of now,” Williams added, referring to ways Fargo can quickly achieve incremental progress on comprehensive flood control and create political goodwill in one stroke.

“It demonstrates good faith for our neighbors, and it buys us something,” Williams said. “We get benefits.”

Even under the most optimistic scenario, it likely would take 10 years to complete a flood control diversion channel, Williams said. Meanwhile, Fargo-Moorhead will remain vulnerable to severe floods.

Systematically adding water storage would help lessen the severity of floods, both as an interim step and long-term solution, he said.

Officials estimate water storage projects totaling 400,000 to 600,000 acres of water 1 foot deep would remove about 1 foot from the crest of a 100-year flood and about 1½ feet from a 500-year flood.

The Redpath project, combined with another water retention project already built in the Bois de Sioux watershed at the headwaters of the Red River, would store more than 40,000 acre-feet of water.

“Here’s two projects that are 10 percent of that already,” Williams said, referring to a 400,000-acre-foot storage goal.

The North Ottawa Project west of Minnesota’s Elbow Lake holds up to 23,800 acre-feet of water. Both projects in the Bois de Sioux watershed have other benefits as well, including improved water quality and recreation.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522