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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press , Published May 14 2013

Winnipeg relaxes as Fargo adds up flood tab

FARGO – Another million-dollar spring flood fight has given Fargo and Cass County officials another case of waterway envy.

The tab for managing a Red River threat has topped the $2.5 million mark in Fargo, after the city built 11 miles of clay levees and placed 100,000 sandbags in preparation for a National Weather Service warning of a possible record flood. The unknowns of the first May crest in city history added to the angst.

Some 200 miles downstream of the north-flowing river, the same river is hardly causing a stir in Winnipeg, Man., because of a 45-year-old channel that moves the water around the metropolitan area of more than 700,000 people. The river eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg.

Cass County Engineer Jason Benson, who last year toured the Canadian waterway, noted the lack of flood stress among Winnipeg residents and said operating the facility is “almost as simple” as pressing a button.

“For the most part, it really is just lifting up the gates to let the water flow into the diversion and around the city,” Benson said.

The Canadian channel has been brought up numerous times by Fargo and Moorhead officials who are promoting a nearly $2 billion diversion that would move water around Fargo in a 36-mile channel during times of serious flooding. The project is awaiting congressional approval.

“We’re tired of this,” said Nancy Otto, a member of the Moorhead City Council. “We’ve had this problem year after year. We need the diversion.”

Construction on the Winnipeg waterway began in 1962 and ended in 1968, at a cost of about $63 million.

After the 1997 flood that wiped out the city of Grand Forks and had Winnipeg scrambling to hold off the river, the Manitoba city committed to a $665 million expansion that doubled the floodway’s capacity.

The project was the brainchild of Charles Dufferin Roblin, Manitoba’s premier at the time.

It had its critics, some of whom dubbed the channel “Duff’s Ditch.” But it has stood the test of time, said April Walker, Fargo city engineer.

“Having that project in place has saved them many times over,” Walker said. “A lot of losses avoided.”

Ernie Gilroy, CEO of the Manitoba Floodway Authority, which manages the Winnipeg waterway, did not return numerous phone messages left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Benson said it’s unlikely that Winnipeg spent nearly as much money on this year’s flood.

“I’m sure their expenses will be very minimal,” he said.