On June 24, the board members of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District voted 3-3 to deny a permit for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion project to move forward. This was a good decision.
There are far less costly ways, significantly less disruptive ways, and far more "green" ways of dealing with a major flood than an ugly diversion canal.
The present corridor of the Red River has handled floods of 40.84 feet (2009) and 39.72 feet (1997) in the past without inundating Fargo and Moorhead, and with the dikes and walls put in since then it will handle floods of that magnitude again with far less auxiliary measures such as sandbagging and earthen dikes.
- Diversion leader aims to appeal board's denial of permit needed for $2.75B flood-control project
- Letter: F-M Diversion threatens historic parish in St. Benedict
So what is the diversion really buying us at a cost of nearly $3 billion? Per a March Forum article, about $250 million dollars has been spent moving homes out of floodprone areas. Fargo has bought 222 homes, with plans to buy 28 more – meaning 89% of the homes Fargo intends to buy have been bought.
Moorhead (including the Oakport area) has purchased 323 homes, with plans to buy 60 to 91 more – meaning 84% to 78% are already bought. It suggests that well over half the money necessary to shore up the river corridor has already been spent – or put differently, another $250 million should be way more than is necessary to complete this shoring up.
A $500 million bill is about one-sixth of the $3 billion estimated for the diversion. The tenth highest flood of all time – 35.08 feet – occurred this spring and the existing walls and dikes with their 41- to 42-foot flood target were not even close to being breached. So again, what is the Diversion really buying us?
Earlier this year, 550 letters were sent to land and homeowners who may have to give way for the canal. That is a lot of disruption. Is it really necessary?
There are greener solutions than a diversion canal. As canals go, they traditionally are not places where people go canoeing, kayaking, picnicking and so on. They are not places that lure attractive housing developments.
Fargo and Moorhead would do well to be more aggressive on making the river corridor a public green space. It could begin from where the Wild River enters the Red south of town to where the Sheyenne enters the Red north of town. Designate a portion on both sides of the river to a green space, with no further building permits allowed (and no exceptions). It will provide ample space to build additional diking and leaving a wide river channel for flood waters negating the need for a canal. It will provide an extended biking, running and park area. It will likely attract tourists, and no canal will do that.