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Published September 01 2010

Forum editorial: Diversion remains on track

Last week’s news from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies and governments involved with the Fargo-Moorhead flood control diversion project was good. It could have been bad. The corps could have announced a delay in the diversion’s ambitious timetable, which, in effect, would have derailed the project. But as of now the project is still on the rails, even if the train is moving a tad slower than it was a couple of months ago.

A slowdown does not necessarily constitute a delay. Indeed, a modest slowdown within the established timetable presents an opportunity for more study prior to authorization and funding. The magnitude and complexity of the project are mind-boggling. The accumulation and analysis of more good data can translate into a better project – one that addresses environmental concerns and potential downstream impacts.

Last week’s session brought together federal lawmakers, state and federal agency heads and elected officials and local government leaders. There was no argument about the need for a diversion to protect Fargo-Moorhead and environs from the flood-prone Red River. The consensus in favor of a diversion and associated mitigation and retention features was not in doubt. That consensus, however, came with appropriate attention to the legitimate concerns of downstream interests. It’s a concern that has been part of the discussion from the beginning, even if some folks downstream didn’t hear it then and refuse to hear it now. Downstream objections are integral factors in the diversion equation.

The Peterson factor

To that end, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., restated his commitment to a billion-dollar retention strategy in the Red’s watershed. He has pledged to put $500 million in the USDA budget ($50 million over 10 years) to be matched from state and local sources to specifically hold water back during a flood, thus reducing the crest on the Red and holding down water levels downriver. Construction of the diversion will take at least eight years, during which time retention impoundments can be built. In other words, not a drop of floodwater would enter the diversion until significant retention features were operational.

Despite what diversion opponents apparently believe, the congressman is serious. He said as much a few weeks ago at a Forum Editorial Board meeting. A few days ago at a Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board session, he repeated his determination to fund retention as part of an overall Red River flood control program. He could not have been clearer. We take him at his word, and also know he has the clout in Congress to deliver.

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