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Published April 08 2010

Forum editorial: Another piece of the puzzle

Another piece of the Red River Valley flood control puzzle is being carved by Minnesota 7th District Congressman Collin Peterson. Speaking in Moorhead on Tuesday, Peterson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has funding that could be used to build smaller water-retention projects on the Red River’s tributaries. He envisions 20 or 30 small dams as opposed to large-scale structures.

Peterson, who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is on to something. Moreover, there are precedents. He said Warren, Minn., which has flooded three times since 2002, built a $5 million retention project and has had no problems since completion. The funding came from the USDA.

One of the major benefits of the small-project approach is the relatively short time it would take to get the work done. The proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion, which likely will be built in North Dakota, will take eight to 10 years from start to finish. During that time, several small retention projects could be ready before the diversion becomes operational. The Warren project, for example, was done in five years.

Retention must be part of the overall flood control strategy if the diversion is to garner support from stakeholders in the flood-prone valley. As Peterson correctly noted, the diversion “can’t put 10 more inches of water on Georgetown, Hendrum and Halstad,” downstream Minnesota towns that already have flood problems. That 10-inch prediction is one estimate of the diversion’s potential downstream impact.

If enough small sites can be identified, acquired and converted into dams and retention reservoirs, the total acre-feet of water held back from the Red and its tributaries could make a difference in the Red’s spring flood crests. Peterson is well-positioned on the House ag committee to secure funding for USDA projects.

Additionally, the city of Fargo has embraced an initiative from Commissioner Mike Williams whereby city funding could be used to help upstream watershed districts build retention dams. It’s both a substantive commitment of dollars and a good-faith gesture that can help assure neighbors that Fargo does not want the diversion to make downstream flooding worse.

Peterson’s contribution to the flood control puzzle is important in that it supports comprehensive watershed management policy, not the diversion alone. That approach is the best long-term strategy for valley flood control.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.