Mike Williams, Published December 05 2010
Sustainable city linked to land useKudos to Fargo City Engineers Mark Bittner and April Walker for the Nov. 16 informational meeting with the Fargo City Commission and Planning Commission and for all their hard work. The meeting was an eye-opener for some. There was an admission of mistakes and an exchange of ideas for changes that could better protect our city as we grow.
We need to take an approach that focuses on protecting what we have now in our current boundary. We can do this while targeting strategies toward quality development with infill of our current footprint that has decades of potential growth in undeveloped or underdeveloped areas, with existing infrastructure and city services already in place.
We continue to work on a diversion to protect for a 500-year event and long-term water management, but a diversion will not be in place for eight to 10 years. While diversion studies continue, we need to focus on what Fargo and our region can do now.
The Minnesota Red Watershed Board and many North Dakota Watershed boards have a common goal of 20 percent flow reduction in the main stem of the Red River and have been working Joint Powers Agreements. Some engineers estimate a 20 percent flow reduction upstream could lower the Fargo Red River level of a 2009 event by 4 to 5 feet. To achieve that, it’s estimated we need 1 million acre-feet of retention in the basin.
Some of these upstream watershed boards, like the Boise de Sioux, have already identified 100,000 or more acre-feet of potential water storage areas in their own watersheds. The goal is to develop 100,000-acre-feet of storage a year for 10 years. As soon some of the retention is in place, it helps; we’ll be reducing flood impacts incrementally with each project.
What can Fargo do?
- Protect what we have: Continue to accelerate completion of our list of projects to protect our current boundary to at least the 100-year flood level with room to add for more severe events.
- Retention and curtail displacement: We should participate in basinwide retention and better land-use practices that don’t further displace thousands of acres of rural land that have historically held water during floods.
- Watercourse setbacks: We can implement ordinances that back away from rivers and drains for new developments to allow the river more room and preserve and grow trees for soil stability on the banks.
Where will we grow? Fargo already has 43 sections of land in our footprint. That’s almost as much as Boston (48.4 square miles) and San Francisco (46.7 square miles). Fargo’s current 43 sections are 27,500 acres for our 100,000 population. Our density is 3.6 people per acre. Fargo’s planning goal is to have 10 people per acre with continued population growth. Extreme best-case projections point to a possible 250,000 Fargo population by 2050. We already have enough land for 250,000 residents; 250,000 people per 27,500 acres is 9.5 people per acre.
If you want to see what 10 people per acre can look like, just walk through some of our more mature, core neighborhoods like Clara Barton, Hawthorne and others.
All of this leads to an opportunity to direct efforts and development tools in a more targeted manner to fill in Fargo land that already has infrastructure and is ripe for quality development for a more safe, attractive, efficient and sustainable city.
Williams is a Fargo city commissioner.