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Heidi Shaffer, Published June 17 2010

Downstream cities urge no more water in diversion plan

HENDRUM, Minn. – Several landowners downstream from a proposed North Dakota diversion say they can’t handle any more water in the area already heavily hit by flooding.

About 150 residents and community leaders packed the Norman County West gymnasium in Hendrum for Wednesday’s meeting about the diversion channel with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

With the diversion, cities north of where the channel rejoins the Red River would see additional water levels during a 100-year flood ranging from 6.6 inches near Perley, Minn., to 11.6 inches between Hendrum and Halstad, corps estimates show.

“I’m taking too much water now,” said Wayne Ohnstad, a farmer near Gardner, N.D.

Ohnstad, who owns land both near the outlet of the diversion and in the channel’s path, came to Wednesday’s meeting to get answers about how high the water will go.

While downstream projections have shifted since the beginning of the corps’ feasibility study, project manager Aaron Snyder said the latest numbers are “fairly firm.”

Snyder said downstream mitigation will likely need to be locally funded, but the corps will continue studying structures throughout the summer to determine whether the additional water would constitute a “taking,” meaning the federal government would have to pay to relocate or compensate the landowner.

Snyder said that while the diversion could cause higher river levels, the extra water is on top of what would already be mostly flooded land.

“There’s definitely a major flooding problem here to begin with,” Snyder said.

Local officials have said they will work to help mitigate and come up with funding for downstream flooding.

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams said he is committed to working with area watershed districts to come up with retention and other mitigation needed in the area.

Representatives from area watershed districts explained some of the current retention and flood mitigation programs under way or planned for the Red River basin.

Most of the cities downstream have plans to build or improve their current levee systems.

The 36-mile diversion wouldn’t wrap up construction for more than a decade, but Hendrum Mayor Curt Johannsen said his city is already seeing some of the negative effects since the corps’ first released downstream impact levels.

“I feel the value of our homes slowly dropping,” he said, adding that Hendrum may have a hard time enticing new residents into the city.

Johannsen said he wants to see a plan that improves flooding for the whole area without sacrificing other communities.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511