Which makes the diversion project enough tougher on people downstream.
There are very few floodwatchers in a drought. But in the spring, we become accustomed to craning our necks at every highway bridge to see the height of the river. Time has taught us that if the Wild Rice River is on the edge of Highway 13 west of Wahpeton, there’s going to be trouble downstream.
We also know that if they are loading the ark at Chahinkapa Zoo, Fargo may need a sandbag or two.
Common sense says that if we could slow down upstream flows, there should be lower river crests downstream. The Red River Basin Commission, working with water resource engineers, completed a two-year study last fall, saying that basinwide retention could lower river crests up and down the watershed.
The North Ottowa project in Minnesota is an impressive example of short term retention. Rep. Collin Peterson has worked tirelessly to put funding for the concept in Farm Bill legislation. Common sense also says that the entire watershed needs to be involved. If you only slow the streams on one side of the river, water from the other side will most likely fill the river anyway.
At a North Dakota Legislative interim committee meeting last spring, Fargo Diversion supporters promoted the idea that a retention project on the Wild Rice south of Wahpeton, wasn’t going to help Fargo. Since the meeting was to hear the need for water projects for flood control and water supply, one of the Legislators finally asked why they were listening to a presentation to do nothing.
Those skeptical of upstream retention say it helps only some years. Diversion supporters say in the last couple of floods, it is the melting just south of town that is the cause of their problems. Should someone whisper that the emperor has no clothes?
Fargo wants to take 40 square miles out of the flood plain immediately south of town – where the Wild Rice and Red Rivers meet – to provide future development room for Fargo. This huge natural storage area absorbs a large amount of upstream runoff and overflow from the Wild Rice River. If that area is left in the floodplain, and basinwide retention is developed, the destructive dam and reservoir can be avoided. Rural residents south of Fargo in southern Cass and Clay, and northern Richland and Wilkin counties, could keep their homes and livelihood.
Some years the flood water may come from the east side of the Red. Sometimes it comes from the west, and most often both. But even in a drought, it all runs downhill.
Miller, a Richland County commissioner, is chairman of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority. He submitted this op-ed on behalf of the Authority.