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Published November 26 2011

Diversion Discussion: Defining ‘staging,’ ‘storage’ areas

FARGO - Descriptions of the proposed Red River diversion project sometimes seem more complicated than they actually are.

Case in point: “storage” area versus “staging” area.

Moorhead resident Mark Skunberg wrote me recently asking for an explanation of the difference between the two terms.

He saw the map The Forum typically publishes to illustrate the proposed diversion channel and was understandably confused by the verbiage.

“It shows a storage area on the ‘dry side’ (north) of the diversion,” Skunberg pointed out. “It seems logical to me that the storage area would be on the ‘wet side’ (south) side of the diversion. Can you explain?”

I’m guessing Skunberg is not the only one a little puzzled by the two terms.

But in short, there is no practical difference, according to officials at the Army Corps of Engineers.

The “storage” and “staging” areas serve an identical function as part of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, but the primary difference is the two geographic areas that the terms refer to.

The storage area, in conjunction with the staging area, is meant to provide some 200,000 acre-feet of water storage in times of high water.

Those locations will allow excess water a place to back up temporarily before it can flow into the diversion channel and around the metro area.

On the ground, the storage and staging areas together cover about 39,000 acres, which includes rural farmland and several small communities south of the metro area.

The concept of staging excess water came about in 2010 during the supplemental phase of the corps’ study on the diversion project.

The storage and staging areas are meant to “nearly eliminate” impacts on towns downstream on the Red River, north of Fargo-Moorhead.

But as residents south of the metro know, that mitigation comes at the expense of residents and communities upstream of the diversion channel.

Technically named “Storage Area 1” by the corps, the storage area spans some 4,300 acres within the diversion’s protected area, just north of the southwest portion of the channel.

This area lies between the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers and will be formed by nearly 12 miles of embankments bordering its north, west and east sides.

Those embankments will provide 50,000 acre-feet of water storage for the project when needed.

Meanwhile, south of the diversion channel, the corps has identified another 150,000 acre-feet of water storage amid rural farmland along the Red River.

The staging area is confined only by an embankment on the north side and a tie-back levee to the west off Cass County Highway 17, according to the corps.

The water storage in this larger area would not begin until the river gage at Fargo reads between 27 and 28 feet, the corps states.

How long water is stored and to what height depends on the severity of each flood event.

For a 100-year flood, overland flooding might be present for five to 15 days in some portions of the staging area, the corps states.

With the diversion in place, the water levels could also reach more than 8 feet above what those rural lands see during a current 100-year flood.

The corps cautions that not all of the staging area will be inundated to the most severe extent during every flood event, and “there will be no impact to crop production for most years.”

Nonetheless, the corps’ initial study does little to calm the fears of residents who would be displaced because of the project’s storage components.

Organizations such as the MnDak Upstream Coalition and Stop the Fargo Dam continue to lobby Fargo-Moorhead leaders to halt the project so it won’t harm their communities.

But as the project stands, the corps continues its designs for the channel and its adjacent storage areas.

The corps also plans to conduct additional modeling to potentially reduce impacts where possible, the corps states.

Join the “Diversion Discussion” at www.diversiondiscussion.areavoices.com.

Have a question about the proposed Red River diversion, or want to recommend a topic you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming column?

Send an email to Forum reporter Kristen Daum at kdaum@forumcomm.com (Subject: Diversion Discussion) or write to Kristen Daum c/o The Forum,

PO Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.