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Study says retention can't replace F-M diversion "staging area"

by Mike McFeely

A report that will be released next month says water retention along the tributaries of the Red River cannot replace the proposed Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project's upstream "staging area," nor can solely holding back water provide the benefits for the F-M metro area the diversion will provide.

The report will blunt arguments by diversion opponents located south of Fargo-Moorhead, who say the staging area and possibly the diversion could be replaced by holding water back on tributaries like the Wild Rice River.

The report was written by the Red River Basin Commission, which was charged by the F-M Diversion Authority Board to study retention alternatives to the staging area and diversion. One of the criticisms of diversion opponents is that the authority hadn't looked at alternatives to the staging area, approximately 35,000 acres in southern Cass County and northern Richland County on which water would be held in times of high water on the Red River.

The Red River Basin Commission released a preliminary report Wednesday.

Among the findings:

  • In order to reduce the flow of the Red River through Fargo-Moorhead by 20 percent during a 100-year flood event (42.4 feet at the Fargo gauge), water retention would be needed on 97 sites from Halstad, Minn., to the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Those 97 sites would require about 108,000 acres, 169 square miles or 4.7 townships of land for distributed upstream retention. By comparison, the currently proposed staging area covers 35,000 acres.

  • Modeling estimated 400,000-600,000 acre-feet of storage would be needed to serve the same purpose the upstream staging area. Assuming $2,000/acre-foot for 580,000 acre-feet of retention on the 97 potential sites, the estimated cost would be $1.16 billion. By comparison, the upstream staging area would cost an estimated $200 million.

  • --Based on past retention projects, it would take years of study and development just to get a retention site permitted.

A 20 percent flow reduction on the Red River during a 100-year flood event would take approximately 1.5 feet off the river through Fargo-Moorhead, which doesn't meet the Diversion Authority's goal of getting the river to the stage of a 50-year event (approximately 40 feet at the Fargo gauge).

The preliminary report says:

"These preliminary results suggest that the staging area included in the Diversion Project is the most effective and efficient retention for mitigating downstream impacts of the diversion. The proposed staging area will cost less and impact fewer acres of land than distributed storage, and it will concentrate the impacts in Cass and Clay counties."

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)