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Published June 16 2010

Fargo Editorial: Peterson steps up for valley

The role of Minnesota 7th District Congressman Collin Peterson in Fargo-Moorhead’s drive to build permanent flood protection cannot be minimized. He has emerged as a key player in a comprehensive flood prevention strategy that includes not only a massive Red River diversion in North Dakota but also a system of upstream retention features in both states that have the potential of reducing spring flood crests on the river.

Retention is a vital factor in the overall flood control equation. If enough holding basins are identified, acquired and prepared to hold floodwaters, fewer acre feet of runoff will pour into the Red and its tributaries. The rivers’ crests will be lower. It’s possible the diversion channel need not be as big and expensive as envisioned because floods can be better managed by holding water on the land.

As important, however, is reducing impacts of the diversion. City officials and landowners north of Fargo-Moorhead are nervous because projections show the diversion could add several inches to spring water levels downstream. Nervousness easily translates into opposition and enough opposition can become a political impediment to a permanent solution to Fargo-Moorhead floods.

Peterson is well-positioned to address those legitimate concerns. He is chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. He has the clout to earmark $50 million a year in the new farm bill for 10 years. That amount would cover the federal share. Local and state governments would still have to come up with another $500 million over the decade to fully fund an effective $1 billion retention plan. The money would be earmarked for retention projects, not for work on the diversion.

The beauty of Peterson’s initiative is timing. A retention effort would get under way during the years the diversion is being constructed. By the time the diversion became operational (up to 10 years), sufficient retention acres could be in place to hold back enough runoff to alleviate downstream concerns about more water being dumped on towns and farms.

Make no mistake about it: Without the 10-term congressman, the task of securing millions of dollars to alleviate Red River Valley flooding would be far more difficult, if not impossible. Peterson has helped broaden the focus from the diversion alone to watershed management that embraces doable water retention projects. Both strategies are necessary for permanent flood control to work.

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