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Dave Olson, Published April 07 2010

Collin Peterson: Dams may be part of solution

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Tuesday he’s pleased Fargo-Moorhead officials picked a North Dakota diversion as their locally preferred flood protection plan.

But he said it will be a “heavy lift” to get the local and federal funding necessary to build it.

In meetings with Clay County and Moorhead officials, Peterson advocated a multi-pronged approach to making sure a diversion gets built.

He said that includes working on water retention projects that will reduce the negative effects a Red River diversion would have on downstream communities, including several in northwest Minnesota.

“Clearly, we can’t put 10 more inches of water on Georgetown, Hendrum and Halstad. We’ve got to have retention go along with this,” said Peterson, who envisions 20 or 30 small dams being built on Red River tributaries as opposed to a few large-scale structures.

He said Department of Agriculture dollars could be accessed to accomplish some of the work.

“We can fund these smaller retention projects, and we can do them quicker,” Peterson said.

The city of Warren, Minn., flooded three times in 2002, according to Peterson.

By using Department of Agriculture funds, which are capped at about $5 million per project, the city was able to get a flood project completed in about five years, Peterson said.

“And we haven’t had a problem in Warren since,” he added.

Underground solution

In addition to building dams, Peterson said the use of drain tiles by rural landowners could be another factor in reducing downstream impacts of a diversion.

In decades past, using underground pipes to drain water from farmland was perceived as causing problems, Peterson said.

But he added that modern tiling systems have the potential for storing water underground and holding it there until the threat of flooding has passed.

“You can take twice as much water off underground as you can over ground, and you can store it in the wintertime in these tiles. If you get a wet fall, it will take that water underground,” Peterson said.

He said it may be possible for the government to help farmers pay for drain systems if a public benefit is identified.

The pluses for farmers are already apparent, he said.

“There’s a big benefit to farmers by tiling; it’s doubled their yields,” Peterson said.

Peterson complimented Clay County and Moorhead officials on their successful flood preparations this spring, stating that because of the area’s readiness, the flood was almost a non-event.

David Stone, a south Moorhead resident whose home is on a flood buyout waiting list, talked with Peterson during his visit to Moorhead and thanked Peterson for his efforts in support of the region.

“I appreciate what you’re doing with the diversion,” Stone added.

Stone said while he hopes to sell his home on Rivershore Drive, he likes Moorhead and plans to find a different house somewhere else in the city.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555