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Editorial: Only a diversion can provide 'safety and security' from catastrophic floods

An important fact has been submerged in the ongoing discussion about what the diversion to protect the Fargo-Moorhead metro area means for Minnesota: More than 1,000 homes in Moorhead would be protected from catastrophic flooding from the diversion channel. If left unprotected, that means more than 1,000 homeowners face the eventual certainty of much higher flood insurance costs, and the very real risk that their homes and belongings will someday be under water. But you never hear that from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. Instead, the governor seems solely concerned about the much smaller number of Minnesota landowners whose land would be temporarily flooded—most likely in early spring floods, before crops are planted.

But maybe there's cause for hope. After the lawyers took their turn, now the engineers will try to resolve the dispute between the Diversion Authority, upstream opponents and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over the $2.2 billion flood control project. Work that had been started in North Dakota on an inlet for the diversion channel was halted last week by a federal judge who concluded the opponents probably would prevail in blocking the project unless Minnesota grants a permit to build a dam associated with the diversion. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim urged the parties to negotiate an agreement.

Fargo city officials, after first vowing to appeal, have decided to cease the legal fight and resume discussions with Minnesota to try to find a way a build a flood project acceptable to both sides. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Dayton spoke, and have agreed to continue the dialogue, bringing in engineers and other technical experts to immerse themselves in the nuts-and-bolts issues to try to achieve resolution. Burgum has made clear that the focus of the talks should not be to return to square one. The diversion, designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is the result of years of exhaustive study—and millions of dollars. Every year of delay adds $60 million to the costly project. Minnesota should not expect the Diversion Authority—of which Moorhead and Clay County are members—to capitulate on the need for the project.

Quite simply, a diversion is needed to carry roughly half of the volume of the Red River in times of significant flooding, and there is no practical way to build an adequate diversion without the upstream staging area, allowing water to pool temporarily to enable a controlled release into the diversion. Without the dam and staging area, there would be adverse impacts downstream along the river all the way to Canada. That's simply unworkable.

It's encouraging that, in the words of his spokesman, Dayton supports a "collaborative process that will prioritize the safety and security of all the people living in the Fargo-Moorhead region." Key words: safety and security. Only a diversion with a controlled release can do that. Finding a way to accomplish that must be the focus of the talks.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.