FARGO - The next four months are going to be a busy and pivotal time for the Red River diversion project.

A series of post-feasibility studies, sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, are due back within the next several weeks.

These studies could influence different aspects of final design for the overall project - up to and including determining the fate of Oxbow, one of a few towns south of Fargo-Moorhead that stands to be wiped out under current plans.

Specifically, these studies are evaluating:

• Whether ring dikes and/or levees can be built around Oxbow to protect it from stored water in the upstream staging area.

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• Whether the diversion inlet southwest of Fargo should be changed from a fixed structure to one with variable gates.

• Whether increasing the allowable flow of the Red River through downtown Fargo-Moorhead could diminish how often the diversion will need to be used.

Diversion consultants have promoted this study as one solution to reduce the project's impact on upstream communities.

While increasing the flows through town would not negate the need for a temporary water storage area south of the channel, this alternative could reduce how often and how long that area is utilized, officials have said.

• Whether the diversion inlet could be moved, either south of Oxbow or north of the confluence of the Red and Wild Rice rivers.

Both of these options were removed from consideration by the corps during the feasibility study phase, but local consultants have been giving them a second look.

However, if any of these options were deemed viable now, officials have said extensive environmental studies would be necessary because it would mark a considerable change from the corps-approved project.

• Whether levee structures at the southern end of the project should be classified as dams or levees.

This classification could affect the criteria officials need to follow in finalizing design for this area of the project.

Since the project will lie between two states and is a federally backed project, it might simultaneously fall under several jurisdictional standards.

For instance, while corps engineers initially referred to the features in question as "levees," the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources classifies them as a "high-hazard dam."

July 31 is the deadline consultants have given themselves to complete draft versions of most of these studies.

The initial work will then be evaluated in early August at workshops for a team of corps analysts and local consultants.

Final recommendations on all of these studies will be presented to the Diversion Authority board in mid-September.

Meanwhile, by September, diversion officials also hope to flesh out a number of contractual agreements that will set their priorities for the year ahead.

These include:

• An extension of the joint-powers agreement, which gives the Diversion Authority its legal governing power on the project.

In renewing the agreement, local governing boards with a stake in the authority - such as Fargo and Moorhead - will have to sign on to the extension.

• Next year's design agreement with the corps, which will specify what work the corps and diversion consultants aim to accomplish by fall 2012.

• And, how much the Diversion Authority wants to spend in design work for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

President Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 included

$5 million for the Red River diversion project.

To receive that funding, the Diversion Authority would have to match that, for a minimum total of $10 million in design work.

However, in order to keep on pace for a desired completion date of 2021, Fargo-Moorhead leaders are also looking into the possibility of shelling out millions more in local dollars next year toward ongoing design.

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