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Forum editorial: Flood plan options take shape

One recurring concern about planning for Fargo-Moorhead flood protection in the wake of the record flooding of 2009 is that the bureaucracy creaks so slowly that little of substance will get done. But here it is, only about five months since the ...

One recurring concern about planning for Fargo-Moorhead flood protection in the wake of the record flooding of 2009 is that the bureaucracy creaks so slowly that little of substance will get done. But here it is, only about five months since the waters receded and dikes and levees came down, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready with an all-important feasibility report. The report is being reviewed by local and state government officials and presented to the public this week.

The report is required in order to determine cost-benefit ratios for the several flood control options the corps has proposed and analyzed. It's preliminary only in that no final option has yet to be determined. When meetings with officials and the public conclude Wednesday, the possibilities will be clearer. When the numbers are plugged into the corps' various plans, degrees of feasibility will begin to emerge.

Among the options the corps is considering is diversion of either the Red River or the Wild Rice River or both. Other plans envision a combination of diversions, levees and holding basins. But the diversion of the Red and/or the Wild Rice has caught the attention and imagination of a prominent group of local citizens. The Flood Protection Coalition proposed a Red diversion in June, but since has focused more on a Wild Rice diversion, a "mini-diversion," which would be less costly. A Wild Rice diversion might make sense since the Wild Rice contributed to Red River flooding last spring. If floodwaters of the Wild Rice were diverted from the Red, the Red's crest in big floods could be reduced.

No one element of flood control should be viewed as a panacea. At this point in the process, it appears a combination of levees, ditches, diversions, holding basins and smart flood plain zoning can be the best long-term, cost-effective solution.

The complexity of developing a comprehensive flood protection and watershed management plan for the Fargo-Moorhead area is mind-boggling. The floods of 1997 and 2009 - and several smaller events in between - have generated data that have been incorporated into everything from river crest forecasting to melting snow rates, tributary capacities and precipitation potential. But even with all the new information and the computing power to analyze it, Mother Nature still can throw a curve.

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Nonetheless, the corps and key agencies of federal, state and local governments have acted quickly, not only to spur project planning, but also to secure the millions of dollars that will be needed over the next several years to complete a project. That's good news. Now, let's hope and pray Mother Nature does not throw that curve next spring.

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

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