$2.75B Diversion Project Makes Headway
Earlier this month, officials announced that they had received a key permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, allowing for the construction of the $2.75 billion Red River diversion project in Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area in North Dakota.
According to the Star Tribune, the permit arrives after years of legal battles between urban dwellers and associated project delays.
About the Project
First discussed in 2008, a group of Fargo residents met with the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss flood protection options as the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District was known to be especially prone to seasonal flooding.
Because the Red River flows north, reports note that in the spring its common for northern stretches of the river to still be frozen, causing the natural build of ice dams. This occurrence, in addition to the fact that the land used to be the home a large glacier lake, the flat land makes it easy for flood waters to spread quickly and far.
"It doesn't take much water to flood a big area," said Gerald Van Amburg, manager of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District.
The project calls for a 36-mile-long ditch, which would divert floodwaters away from the Red River, its five tributaries and developed areas around Fargo. In addition to the diversion, a flood control dam would also back floodwaters into surrounding farmlands and prairie areas on either side of the river to the south.
According to reports, the flood protection project will span some 30,000 acres and intends to protect a quarter million people and $20 billion work of property.
Minnesota has approved a massive $2.75 billion flood mitigation project to channel flood waters away from developed areas and retain stormwater. https://t.co/BpH0Cu5Pfk— NPCA (@NationalPrecast) February 18, 2021
"The permit allows us to work directly with affected Minnesota landowners and provide them with certainty of project impacts and property rights acquisition needs," said Joel Paulsen, Executive Director of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority. "Now, with the affirmation of the permit, our team is ready to act."
The permit was previously issued in 2018, however, opponents of the project appealed it, which halted some elements of construction. Those opposing the project consisted mostly of urban residents who witnessed the frequent flooding of the area, as well as farmers and rural residents, who also feared having their lands disrupted by major flooding events.
Although, most of these oppositions were quieted after a settlement was reached in October, which included $75 million of economic relief fund for Richland County in North Dakota and Wilkin County, Minnesota. The funds are slated to be used to insure farmers, landowners and business owners who have the potential to suffer losses in the event of a sever flood. The funds will also be used to compensate areas in counties that can no longer be developable.
In moving forward with the project, the MFDA has affirmed its decision to grant the dam safety and public waters work permit. However, the DNR requires that the diversion authority obtain property rights for land impacted by the project up to the probable maximum flood event.
Other steps to follow for the project’s progress is the selection of a construction bid through a public-private partnership. The awarded bid is slated to be announced in April, with construction breaking ground by the fall and continuing through 2027.
"You get into that mode of litigation and it seems like it never ends: always another court case, another court hearing," Paulsen said. "Now we can focus on what we were hired to do. It's a light at the end of a very long tunnel."
Other Projects in the Area
Back in 2017, state officials were reported to be moving forward with a 165-mile pipeline intended to supply water to parts of North Dakota they said didn’t have a reliable source of water, especially in droughts.
The Red River Valley Water Supply Project, first authorized in 2000 as a federal project, was a $1 billion proposal that would help move water from the Missouri River to the Sheyenne River to the east. The Sheyenne flows into the Red River at Fargo; the Red flows north, eventually draining to Hudson Bay.
The project is part of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District; the Garrison Diversion was an earlier water supply project authorized in 1968, which was abandoned in the 1990s without having been completed. The Diversion project morphed into the Red River Valley plan.
The North Dakota State Water Commission is authorized to fund up to $30 million toward the Red River Valley project in its 2017-19 budget, including $17 million for planning and permitting and another $13 million for preliminary construction. Officials say that construction could begin in 2019, and they reportedly foresee a 10-year timeline for completion. The pipeline will require a treatment plant where the water enters from the Missouri, and the water will be dechlorinated before it enters the Sheyenne.
The pipeline would begin either at Lake Audubon (running through the McClusky Canal, built for the Garrison Diversion project) or at a to-be-constructed intake on the Missouri River near Washburn. The underground pipeline is planned to generally follow Highway 200 across the state.
The state planned to use 165 miles of 72-inch steel pipe, moving 165 cubic feet of water per second.
The Water Commission’s new projects are funded through the state’s Resources Trust Fund, which is replenished largely via fees on oil drilling. With oil prices down, some expressed concerns in 2016 that funding for the project could be in jeopardy.
The state’s executive budget for 2017-19 included $560.5 million in water-related expenditures and only about $306 million in revenue; according to the budget, the fund will have only $615,507 left at the end of 2019. It was estimated to have about $260 million at the time.