After wet spring, officials consider plan to redirect Forest River

The Walsh County Water Resource District is dusting off a 40-year-old plan to divert Forest River floodwater from inundating Minto — as it did three times this spring — and thousands of acres of farmland.

The board is seeking local sponsors to help finance a $160,000 Forest River Flood Control Feasibility Study.

According to the plan, water would be diverted during peak flooding from southwest of the community of Forest River, two to three miles to a coulee that runs to Lake Ardoch and the Ardoch National Wildlife Refuge. That coulee starts in Grand Forks County.

“I think it’s a good project,” said Walsh County Water Board Chairman Larry Tanke. “It’s going to cost some money, but the city of Forest River will benefit and Minto will benefit.”

The study, which involves remote-sensor LIDAR mapping, also would identify potential lands where floodwater could be retained for about eight to 10 days during times of high water.

The Walsh County water board is seeking $28,000 in local funding for the feasibility study.

The board already has secured $80,000 from the North Dakota State Water Commission for the study. It also has a commitment for up to $52,000 from the Red River Joint Water Resource Board.

Funding from the Red River Joint Board carries a stipulation that floodwater retention be part of the project. The Red River Retention Authority, which includes counties on both sides of the Red River, is charged with reducing peak flows in the Red River by 20 percent. That’s the percentage of reduction that it would have taken to prevent the 1997 flood from devastating the city of Grand Forks.

Tanke said that if retention is incorporated into the plan, officials likely would try to identify a quarter-section (160 acres) or a section of land plus some areas along the coulee channel.

Past try

The Grand Forks County Water Resource District will consider contributing part of the funding when it meets Wednesday, according to Rich Axvig, board chairman. He suggested that an adjacent flood-prone area near Johnstown be included in the study.

“We’ve got a problem there that we don’t know how to fix,” he said.

The original diversion plan, initially proposed in the 1970s but dropped in the late 1980s, was sponsored by the federal Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Axvig, who is retired from the NRCS and participated in the original proposed project discussion, said that project did not satisfy cost-benefit ratios at the time. That project, which initially was part of a larger project that created the Fordville Dam, included a large drop structure to take water from the Forest River.

“Landowners didn’t want it because of the potential loss of a large amount of good farmland,” he said.

At the time, the Forest River project involved an estimated 18,750 acres.

The cost-benefit ratio likely would be quite different today, given the cost of farmland and crop prices, he said.

The feasibility study would identify the potential drainage area, the potential for temporary water retention, and provide an estimated project cost, as well as show its benefits, according to Zach Herrmann, an engineer with Houston Engineering, which is working with the Walsh County group.
“The tools are available, through LIDAR, to show what this area looked like during the height of the May flood and what it might have looked like if this had been in place,” he said.