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Published November 06, 2009, 12:00 AM

F-M group narrows flood fight options

Larger diversions remain; levees out
A group charged with deciding the best local flood control option for Fargo-Moorhead narrowed its choices Thursday from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers list.

A group charged with deciding the best local flood control option for Fargo-Moorhead narrowed its choices Thursday from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers list.

The Metro Flood Study Work Group also received some good news.

Zoltan Montvai, a senior civilian official with the corps’ Mississippi Valley Division, said a midsized diversion channel could be declared the best plan economically for the nation – even if it’s not the cheapest.

Montvai said it may not be easy, but it can be argued that small diversions don’t offer enough protection for the metro area from Red River floods.

“A lesser alternative essentially leaves too much risk on the table; too difficult for the community to continue to flood fight,” Montvai said. “Let’s see if a supportable argument can be made in that regard.”

Meanwhile, the local work group decided:

  • To drop levee plans from consideration.

  • To drop the 25,000-cubic-feet-per-second Minnesota diversions from consideration because they don’t offer enough protection.

  • The corps should study a 30,000-cubic-feet-per-second diversion and a 35,000-cubic-feet-per-second diversion in North Dakota to see if either can meet federal cost/benefit requirements.

Local governments need to present a “locally preferred alternative” to the corps by Dec. 1.

Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, a co-chairman of the work group, said there was a consensus for 500-year flood protection, a 35,000- cubic-feet-per-second diversion, and to have diversion plans in Minnesota and North Dakota to decide from.

The group will try next Thursday to decide what local government will own and maintain the project, as well as funding, Mahoney said.

Aaron Snyder, one of two corps’ project managers, said the corps will continue to work on making a North Dakota diversion cost-effective.

Snyder said new information plugged into corps’ calculations was “a wash” for two North Dakota diversions, leaving them shy of a 1.0 or above rating needed for approval.

Corps officials are under a tight timetable to get a Fargo-Moorhead flood control plan approved.

Congress is to take up a major water projects bill in 2010. The last time it approved such a bill was in 2002.

“We have one chance to do it and do it right,” Montvai said.

Snyder presented maps that show a 35,000-cubic- feet-per-second diversion in North Dakota kept much more land out of the 100-year flood plain than the same size diversion in Minnesota.

A North Dakota diversion left 30 square miles in the flood plain, most of it northwest of the metro area, while a Minnesota diversion left 80 square miles in the flood plain.

Craig Evans, the other corps project co-manager, said work must still be done on determining how much it will cost to protect against any environmental impacts from a diversion in North Dakota, which would cut across several Red River tributaries, including the Wild Rice, Sheyenne, Maple and Rush rivers.

Snyder and Evans said no matter what the local choice is, the corps must focus on refining what appears to be the lowest-cost option for the nation. Right now, that’s a short diversion in Minnesota that would move 25,000 cubic feet of water per second. That option costs $962 million, corps figures show.

Red River flowing at highest recorded level for November

The Red River in Fargo is flowing at the highest level ever recorded for the month of November, the U.S. Geological Survey says.

The Red was flowing at 8,040 cubic feet per second Wednesday, making it the highest stream flow recorded for the month of November since measurements were started in 1901.

“It is concerning to see this level of stream flow in November,” said Gregg Wiche, who directs the USGS North Dakota Water Science Center.

The flow in the Red River at Fargo peaked last fall at 9,180 cubic feet per second on Oct. 16. By Wednesday, it had fallen to 1,400 cubic feet per second, the USGS said.

The Red crested at 23.59 feet Wednesday, about 5½ feet above flood stage and a record for this time of year, the USGS said.

The river was at 22.81 feet as of 7 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.

It is expected to drop to its flood stage of 18 feet late Sunday night or early Monday, the NWS predicts.

The Red went over flood stage in the metro last weekend as runoff from October’s rain and snowmelt surged into tributaries and toward


Sunny to party sunny skies and high temperatures in the high 40s to mid-50s are forecast through Sunday.

Forum staff reports

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583