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West-side diversion best bet

If one looks downriver to the north, the flood control stars appear to be lining up on the left - that is, on the west side of the Red River. Several local governments favor a North Dakota diversion over a Minnesota-side channel. On the east side...

If one looks downriver to the north, the flood control stars appear to be lining up on the left - that is, on the west side of the Red River. Several local governments favor a North Dakota diversion over a Minnesota-side channel. On the east side, opposition to a diversion - big or small - is universal. The city of Dilworth, for example, is strongly opposed to a diversion city officials say would block the city's development to the east.

In North Dakota, however, the prospect of a channel with capacity to protect the metro area from a 500-year flood has enthusiastic support, so far. Flood control planners have yet to hear from owners of farmland that might be in the project's path. A general route has been identified, but finalizing a location for a diversion channel is a ways off.

In addition to opposition that might arise from landowners, environmental groups might fight a diversion that would cross at least three Red River tributaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has expensive techniques to separate the diversion from the rivers, but some environmentalists might fight the channel itself, claiming it would have detrimental effects on the watershed.

But before opposition gets organized, it has to have something to oppose. The corps will take its marching orders from local officials, specifically, a project sponsor-government, which is likely to be the city of Fargo. The multi-government Metro Flood Study Work Group has been meeting for months to decide on a final option. The group is close, having narrowed options to a corps study of a diversion. A decision is expected by early December.

Meanwhile, speculation about the multitude of impacts of a river flood diversion ranges from environmental damage (if any) to the potential for significant development west of the metro area to the growing opposition from downstream cities whose leaders worry a diversion with aggravate their flooding problems.

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All those hurdles and more must be cleared before a single shovel of Red River Valley soil is moved. But if the hurdles are cleared, the best bet is that the big machines will be working on the North Dakota side of the river.

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

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