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Kyle Potter, Published May 08 2014

Some F-M diversion leaders want focus on watershed retention projects

FARGO – Several Fargo-Moorhead diversion leaders are pushing to focus on projects in watershed districts across the region that will decrease flooding impacts on the project’s so-called staging area.

The Diversion Authority has set aside $25 million to contribute to retention projects throughout the Red River Basin, and watershed districts are anticipating millions more from the new farm bill.

At its meeting Thursday, Clay County Commissioner and authority member Kevin Campbell said the diversion’s dollars “should focus on reducing impacts to the staging area” – a sentiment Cass County Commissioner Ken Pawluk agreed with.

For Don Nelson, a fixture at Diversion Authority meetings, the commissioners’ comments signaled a marked change in tone.

“It’s the first baby step in the right direction,” said Nelson, whose family farms in Holy Cross Township sits just south of the dam that would back up flood waters into the staging area during severe floods.

Opponents of the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel, among them members of the MnDak Upstream Coalition, have complained about the Diversion Authority’s insistence on the staging area. Opponents say the staging area will unnecessarily back up water onto land south of the metro in order to protect land for future development. That argument is part of a lawsuit against the diversion in federal court.

Nelson said he thinks enough watershed retention projects could remove the need for a staging area, but said he supports the need a diversion channel around Fargo-Moorhead.

Though they stressed the need for retention, diversion officials said they don’t believe it can replace a staging area – or the project as a whole.

“I think most of us feel you cannot retain a major flood away,” Pawluk said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502