Obama’s signature officially authorizes Fargo-Moorhead diversion project
FARGO — President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed legislation authorizing the $1.8 billion diversion to protect Fargo-Moorhead from catastrophic flooding.
Authorization came from the president’s signature on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which authorized the flood protection project, a 36-mile diversion channel, intended to protect a metro population of about 200,000.
“I think we should celebrate today,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who was on hand for the signing, accompanied by Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.
But Heitkamp said a lot of work remains to be done to secure appropriations for the project’s federal share, authorized at $846 million under the legislation signed Tuesday.
Heitkamp again urged the Diversion Authority to work with upstream landowners to minimize impacts from a water staging area in order to gain more local support for the project.
“Our work is made easier if everybody in North Dakota is pulling in the same direction,” she said, adding that she is working with Obama administration officials to improve the project’s cost-benefit ratio.
Walaker was traveling and unavailable Tuesday afternoon for comment.
“For someone who has been involved with water infrastructure projects for a long time in the Fargo-Moorhead region, it is extremely important that we have come this far,” Walaker said in a statement. “We need to keep working together to get the appropriations we need to start this project and protect North Dakota.”
Nancy Otto, a Moorhead City Council member and Diversion Authority board member, said federal authorization will enable backers to seek funding from the Minnesota Legislature.
“It’s another big step,” she said of presidential approval. “That just gives us the impetus to move forward with the project.”
Darrell Vanyo, a Cass County commissioner and chairman of the Diversion Authority board, agreed that the president’s signature, though expected, is another step forward for the project.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “It’s a formality. We are excited. It’s another milestone reached.”
The water development act also prohibits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from charging a fee for using water stored in reservoirs on the Missouri River, including Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe in North Dakota, a provision authored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and supported by Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson, all Democrats, also voted in favor of the water projects bill.