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Steve Jacobson, Published August 08 2010

Diversion column all wrong

In the Aug. 1 edition of the Forum, Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski blasts diversion opponents in his column “Diversion foes should keep it honest.” He challenges their credibility by accusing them of playing fast and loose with the facts.

After reading the commentary, I was left wondering whose credibility is in question?

Zaleski questions the magnitude of crest impact on downstream communities. Is it 4 inches or 20? On June 16, at a public hearing held in Hendrum, Minn., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Hendrum could expect increased crest elevations of 17 inches in 10- and 50-year flood events as a result of the proposed diversion. Eleven inches of increased crest elevation can be expected in a 100-year event. Twenty inches of impact is probably within the tolerance of error in the corps findings.

Zaleski points out that the corps will not fund a project that would do damage and we should be assured by that. It is my understanding that the corps has indicated, so far, that there will be minimal downstream impacts. They have expressed the opinion that downstream communities flood already so an additional 17 inches of flood crests is insignificant. This is so wrong. Up to 17 inches of additional crest elevations are going to cause great harm, but, so far, the corps has been reluctant to admit that.

Zaleski references Rep. Collin Peterson’s, D-Minn.,

$500 million proposal to fund water retention, and we choose to dismiss it.

Peterson’s proposal is good, but is a long way from becoming reality. Any one who has served on a watershed board knows that making water retention projects a reality is difficult. There are dozens more drainage projects on the table than there are storage projects.

Drainage is popular, water storage is not. Zaleski ignores that and suggests that downstream folks should hang their hat on Peterson’s proposal and their downstream concerns will be solved.

Sen. Byron Dorgan’s, D-N.D., statement that the project must include retention and downstream protection sounds good. We have yet to hear what this retention and/or protection would include. That mandate could easily be fulfilled as improved dikes around Hendrum and Perley, Minn., and some funding for a storage project. These steps are good but will not mitigate all impacts of the diversion.

Zaleski calling a diversion foe’s remarks smarmy was off-base. The diversion foe implied that Fargo-Moorhead would not accept a project that sends additional flood water their way. The diversion foe made no reference that Fargo-Moorhead does not already have serious flood challenges.

At the end of Zaleski’s commentary, he makes the comment, “They should say they don’t want the damn thing, and to hell with 175,000 people.” This is offensive. I have not spoken to or heard from anyone that Fargo-Moorhead should not have flood protection.

The notion that Fargo-Moorhead can only be protected by a diversion is debatable. F-M planners are in such a hurry to see this thing through that other less invasive alternatives have not seen the light of day.

The proposed diversion is an excellent example of water management that benefits some at the expense of others. Any way you cut it, the diversion will send as much as 17 inches of additional water to downstream communities. You can’t mitigate that much impact. It’s an unacceptable plan.

Jacobson is a Norman County (Minn.) commissioner.