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Published May 30 2012

Subcommittee considers diversion design change

KINDRED, N.D. – Members of the Diversion Authority’s Agricultural Policy Subcommittee are considering a slight design change that could affect 1,000 fewer acres along the proposed Red River diversion channel west of Fargo.

Initial feasibility designs for the 35-mile-long project propose a wider footprint of about 450 feet on both sides of the diversion channel, where excavated material will serve as a permanent barrier.

However, a higher and narrower berm could impact less farmland, diversion consultants said Wednesday.

The alternative would be a barrier footprint of about 120 feet, with a steeper slope similar to the barrier that lies on either side of West Fargo’s existing Sheyenne Diversion.

“We think there’s some cost-savings that could be accomplished and less land taken as well,” said Eric Dodds, a project consultant with Fargo-based AE2S.

The downside to that option would be that farmers likely couldn’t till the excavated land at all, in comparison to the wider berm proposed in the Army Corps’ feasibility study.

Subcommittee Chairman Rodger Olson, a farmer near Leonard, said that might not be too much of a negative, though, since land on the barrier would be less productive anyway.

“It affects the overall yield of the land if that section doesn’t produce as much,” Olson said, adding that individual farmers might have their own preference.

Board members didn’t offer a formal recommendation on the topic Wednesday, which was the first meeting of the Diversion Authority’s Agricultural Policy Subcommittee.

The board was formed earlier in May and includes representation from several rural farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Members of the subcommittee also discussed a host of other issues, including how operations of the diversion would impact farmland and agriculture production, and how farmers and landowners might be compensated.

About 8,000 acres of land will be affected by the diversion channel itself, and as much as 54,700 acres could also be affected by temporary water storage near the southern end of the channel.

The extent to which the land would be affected depends on the severity of the flood. For instance, in a five-year flood – when flows reach 12,150 cubic feet per second – less than 5,700 acres would be affected in the staging area.

Officials are optimistic that a study due out this summer will show the use of the diversion and its staging area could be reduced by increasing Red River flows through downtown Fargo-Moorhead.

If the study’s conclusions come back as expected, the staging area might only be needed once every 10 years.

“From a farmer’s standpoint, nine out of 10 years it’d be business as usual,” said Jon Diebel, a project consultant with CH2M Hill. “Then, probability-speaking, in that 10th year, there may or may not be an impact.”

The historical record shows farmers might not have much to fear from the diversion operating during summertime, especially if the higher flows in the river channel are allowed.

No historical floods in June or July have exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second, a level that would require staging of water south of the channel, Dodds said.

The most severe floods tend to come during the springtime melt before farmers plant their crops for the season, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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