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Published October 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: F-M must assure neighbors

Fargo-Moorhead’s campaign to build permanent flood-control systems must consider downstream worries.

Fargo-Moorhead’s campaign to build permanent flood-control systems

must consider downstream worries. Last week, as metro-area residents got a look at several options for protecting the cities from “the big one,” voices from Red River towns such as Hendrum, Minn., and Pembina, N.D., expressed concerns. What, they asked, would a diversion of the Red mean to downstream cities and farms? How will a Fargo-Moorhead bypass affect levees, ring dikes and other flood works already in place?

The questions are not without substance. Perceptions of the impacts of flood walls, levees and diversion channels might not square with the actual hydrology, but perceptions affect the politics of flood control, and therefore cannot be dismissed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is clear about downstream effects of flood-control projects. The corps cannot participate in projects that negatively impact the neighbors. In a meeting last week with The Forum’s Editorial Board, corps officials emphasized that point. Analyses of projects must include consideration of the potential for downstream damage. If such potential exists, the project is a no-go or must be modified.

That’s policy, not perception. Still, anyone familiar with Red River Valley flooding understands how perceptions fuel the blame game: It’s farm drainage. It’s the Sheyenne Diversion. It’s the Breckenridge-Wahpeton Diversion. It’s those flood walls in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. It’s a water board’s ill-conceived drain project. It’s all that water running off urban asphalt and concrete.

Certainly those factors affect the manner in which water moves. But when Mother Nature dumps more water on the land than the land can hold, it runs off in torrents and surges that would generate record flooding even if there were no cities, no farms and no flood projects in the Red River Valley. That fact is confirmed by the history of the river. The nature of the Red – north-flowing through a nearly flat landscape – guarantees flooding on the river and its tributaries more often than not.

Nonetheless, flood controls designed to protect one place should not do so at the expense of another place. That clearly is not the intent of F-M project options. But last week’s downstream reactions suggest not everyone is convinced. It is imperative, therefore, to provide thorough, science-based assurances to downstream interests that flooding will not be worse for them when Fargo-Moorhead’s projects are operational.

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