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Editorial was correct: Diversion "alternative" isn't serious option

by Mike McFeely

Those who oppose the Fargo-Moorhead diversion on the Red River would have you believe their "new," "alternative" plan is a realistic solution to the area's flooding problems. It isn't. It is, in my opinion, a way to give opponents political cover so they can say, "See, we don't oppose flood protection for Fargo, we just oppose the current plan." 

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead ran an editorial recently opposing the so-called alternative, and the newspaper was right to take that stance.

Among the points made by The Forum:

Trouble is the changes they demand would gut the concept and thus render the project ineffective as a long-term means of protecting Fargo, Moorhead and environs from a catastrophic flood. They understand that reality, yet persist in promoting the fiction that they are not against permanent flood protection for a growing urban center of nearly 200,000 people. They are, and their actions confirm they are. 

The MNDak Upstream Coalition rolled out an alleged new plan last month -- which was not a new plan at all, by the way. The coalition's alternative plan would move the southern end of the diversion northward and eliminate the staging area (an area for holding water on a short-term, temporary basis during times of extreme flooding) in favor of "distributive storage." The latter is a fancy term for damming tributaries like the Wild Rice rivers in both North Dakota and Minnesota and the Maple River in North Dakota.

In other words, upstream opponents are willing to do exactly what they claim Fargo is doing to them -- push their water problems onto somebody else. But I digress ...

The biggest of many issues with the upstream opponents' plan, basically, is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the F-M Diversion Authority have already studied it and rejected it because of impact, cost and unfeasibility.

Impact because dozens more homes would be directly impacted by a more northerly diversion channel and because distributed storage along the Red's tributaries would take up significantly more land than the staging area. Three times more land, to be exact. To hold back the amount of water needed to protect Fargo-Moorhead in times of a catastrophic flood using distributed storage would take 96,000 acres, or 146 sections of land. That compares to 32,000 acre for the holding area in the current plan.

Cost because more homes would be impacted by the diversion channel being moved north (more money for buyouts, mitigation, etc.) and because it would cost millions more to secure 146 square miles of land for retention. 

Unfeasibility because a study by the Red River Basin Commission revealed that it would take 97 sites where water would have to be held back to reduce the Red's mainstream flow by 20 percent in a 100-year flood (reducing the river's crest by merely two feet). Distributed storage would need 97 sites to hold back enough water to equal that of the staging area. The possibility of securing and paying for 97 sites along the Red's tributaries on which to hold back water would be ... exactly zero.

Diversion opponents continue to say they want to sit down with Fargo leaders and talk things over. There is no reason for that. The plan opponents put forward is unworkable. The best chance they have to kill the diversion is in the courts, and they are trying to do that. But trying to position themselves as offering options because "they aren't opposed to the diversion, just this diversion" is disengenous. At best. If they are opposed to this diversion, they are opposed to the diversion. Period.

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