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Published September 11 2012

Forum editorial: F-M must prepare for drought

It’s wet, then dry. It’s flood, then drought. It’s the northern Plains. It’s the way it is, was and likely always will be.

It’s a water planner’s perennial nightmare.

Fargo-Moorhead and the Red River Valley know about floods. The recent big ones have been record or near-record events. The hundreds of millions of dollars expended on flood protection since 1997 has been money well spent. The cities are protected from a “normal” big flood, although the sure-to-come “big one” could inundate the metro area unless further flood protection is constructed, specifically the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

Anyone who has been through the past 15 years in the F-M area understands just how high the rivers can get. Nonetheless, one dry year – this year – seems to take the edge off those memories, at least among some people.

Serious policymakers and project planners see the long term. That’s why it’s encouraging that a consortium of officials and agencies is again looking seriously at a water delivery system that would move Missouri River water into the Red River Valley. The idea is not new, going back to the original (and mostly defunct) Garrison Diversion project. The concept remains valid, especially since water needs in the valley are greater than they were a generation ago. The growth of Fargo, for example, requires a renewed focus on the probability that the Red River will go very low again, as it did in the 1930s and, in recent memory, in the late 1980s.

Fargo and the valley have to be prepared for the extremes of flood and drought. That’s an expensive proposition, but one catastrophic flood or one extended drought would be a greater economic and social disaster. And as Grand Forks post-’97 has shown, it would take at least a decade to recover.

Of course, the availability of funding and other resources demands priorities are established. Right now, long-term flood protection is No. 1 on the list. But as Fargo leaders have said again and again, a close No. 2 has to be guaranteeing a reliable water supply.

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

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