Basin planning is the keyMuch has been said about flood protection in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but little attention given to river basin planning for the Red River of the North system.
By: Mort Mazaheri,
Much has been said about flood protection in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but little attention given to river basin planning for the Red River of the North system. If we want to resolve the problems on a long-range basis, comprehensive and coordinated river basinwide planning is the answer.
While urban areas like Fargo-Moorhead need specific plans for managing the surface water resources of which flood protection is a part, there is a need also for a rural component. There are problems in both areas. A basinwide plan must have an urban and a rural component.
Building permanent/temporary dikes is one element in this complex equation. The plan should examine every possible alternative for the very long-term growth and change in the region. While we do not totally know the details of the impact of technology for the next 50 or 100 years, we do know that the area will grow both in population and its dynamic needs. The communities in the Red River Valley will stay and thrive in the future. But we need to help create conditions to lessen the impact of negative features such as flooding, which has cost much already and will cost more if we do not plan now.
Comprehensive planning tells us that we must look at many things that make water resources management effective and viable. Each alternative within the planning process should consider flood protection locally, as has been extensively talked about in recent days in our area, but they also should consider a network of permanent and temporary storage reservoirs including dams, shore line treatment and multipurpose reservoir facilities along the main stem and the tributaries of the Red River.
In the past 100 years the farm land drainage has been extensive and to the point that that water runoff is now mostly directly channeled into the Red River and its tributaries. There is very little natural storage capacity left on the farms in the valley. Flooding is a natural phenomenon governed by climatic changes, pace and scale of urban development, farm land drainage and perhaps global warming (also related to climate change). It is safe to say that we will observe more flooding in the future, unless we learn how to better manage the water resources system in the valley.
In the plan, all alternatives should also examine some aspects of diversion both on the surface and underground by large-scale pipes within and outside the urban areas. The idea of surface diversion, recently in the news, which has raised some eyebrows, has merit. Sure, it would take thousands of acres out of farming wherever you put it. It also might have some negative effects on the orderly growth in the urban areas as well smaller towns in the basin. But let us examine it before we say no.
In the past 40 years we have heard about the desirability of a Red River Authority. It is a very good idea, much-needed organization and must be in the plan for the system management. We need money for building such a system, and where do we get it? Since the Red River basin is located in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and deals with interstate commerce, transportation, agriculture and rural/urban development, the federal government should supply most of the money.
The Red River Basin Authority should not be loaded with state and federal representatives. In fact, it should be represented by local units of governments and residents with strong backing by the state governments in legislative measures.
Does this sound complex? Yes, indeed it is. But it requires working together and keeping open minds and examining all options, and above all we need to look at the Red River Valley as a dynamic system needing a holistic approach to its management. We can do it.
Mazaheri is a former Fargo city commissioner and professor emeritus at North Dakota State University.