Forum editorial: Sheyenne Diversion points wayAs debate over the location of a Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion channel heats up, it’s instructive to examine the extraordinary success of the Sheyenne Diversion.
As debate over the location of a Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion channel heats up, it’s instructive to examine the extraordinary success of the Sheyenne Diversion. The Sheyenne channel is smaller than a proposed diversion that would divert the Red River around the metro area. But the principle is the same.
The Sheyenne project functions as its designers said it would. Moreover, it has exceeded expectations several times since it became operational in 1992. Areas along the Sheyenne that would flood routinely in moderate floods – including the cities of Horace and West Fargo – stayed dry in the record-setting floods of 1997 and 2009. Both the Horace leg and West Fargo leg of the diversion were tested to their limits and passed. Indeed, the diversion has worked so well that it showed it has capacity to take about another 5 feet of floodwaters above the flows experienced in 2009.
The Sheyenne Diversion changed the development landscape from West Fargo to Horace. That approximately seven-mile stretch of the Sheyenne River was one of the most flood-prone areas of Cass County prior to the diversion. Land adjacent to and several miles away from the river were in the floodplain, and therefore residential and commercial development was limited. The diversion removed tens of thousand of acres from the annual spring flooding threat and development took off.
The diversion was paid for in large part by assessments on properties that benefited from the new flood protection. A maintenance and operation levy remains on the books to keep the channel in good condition. If ever there were special assessments that delivered great value for the money, it’s been taxes for the Sheyenne Diversion. The return on that investment continues to deliver reliable flood protection and an expanding property tax base.
A Fargo-Moorhead Red River diversion could bring the same benefits across a much larger area. The debate over whether a diversion should be in Minnesota or North Dakota cannot be dismissed because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes an east-side channel has the better cost/benefit ratio. But the obstacles to a Minnesota-side project are daunting and might be insurmountable. And the long-term benefits on the North Dakota side, which the corps does not factor into its equations, would be significant, just as they turned out to be for the Sheyenne Diversion.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.