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Published July 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Diversion option viable for Fargo-Moorhead

Local engineers say a tour of the channel that diverts floodwaters around Winnipeg confirmed that a similar project is technically possible for Fargo-Moorhead.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

Local engineers say a tour of the channel that diverts floodwaters around Winnipeg confirmed that a similar project is technically possible for Fargo-Moorhead.

“It shows that it can be done,” said Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt. “It’s a relatively simple project when you look at it from a technical perspective.”

More than 20 people, mostly government and private engineers who have worked with flood-control issues in the F-M area, recently toured the Red River Floodway to gain insight into one possible flooding solution.

The Army Corps of Engineers is studying a diversion as one potential option for a metrowide flood-protection project, along with higher dikes, more retention and other options.

Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said he didn’t see anything during the tour that would rule out a diversion.

“I think it would be a feasible alternative for the metro area,” he said. “We’ll find out if it’s cost-effective when the corps gets a little bit further along.”

A massive flood in 1950 spurred construction of the 30-mile-long Winnipeg floodway, also called “Duff’s Ditch” after Charles Dufferin Roblin, the Manitoba premier who championed the project.

One concern about a similar diversion around Fargo and West Fargo is that it would have to cross four rivers, Berndt said. But engineers on the tour saw how Manitoba used a siphon to accommodate the Seine River where the floodway intercepts it.

“That concept looked very workable,” he said.

A North Dakota-side diversion also would have to cross interstate highways and railroads, which the floodway does.

While there are similarities, Berndt said a diversion here would present unique challenges, namely a stricter regulatory climate and the political complexities of having two states involved. Soil conditions and groundwater levels also may present greater limitations, Zimmerman said.

The potential for a diversion to worsen flooding upstream and downstream also will need to addressed, the engineers said. Manitoba erected ring dikes around cities and elevated or ring-diked farmsteads south of Winnipeg.

Officials are mulling a second, policy-focused tour with the Manitoba Floodway Authority, said Brenda Elmer, a Red River Basin Commission staffer working on a flood solutions study.

“We really view them as a resource going forward,” she said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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