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Downstream cities worried about impact

FARGO, N.D. -- The first good look at a Fargo-Moorhead diversion project's impact on cities downstream wasn't positive for Terry Guttormson.

"I feel worse," the Hendrum, Minn., farmer said.

The largest diversion being considered would raise the Red River near his farm by up to 10.4 inches during a 100-year flood.

Other Minnesota cities got similar bad news from the Army Corps of Engineers, which estimated river stage increases of up to 7.6 inches at Georgetown, 5.3 inches at Halstad and 6 inches at Perley.

The estimates are higher than those tossed out during initial discussions, but then, the corps initially didn't anticipate a huge diversion project emerging as the favored option of F-M leaders, corps Project Manager Aaron Snyder said.

"That consequence is some additional water downstream," he said.

The figures prompted calls for more detailed data and additional measures of protection -- namely upstream water storage -- from the downstream cities and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who said it's a must if the project is to win broad political support.

"In order to get everybody on the same page and working together, we've got to get retention into the mix here," he said.

A North Dakota diversion able to carry 35,000 cubic feet of water per second would boost river levels downstream more than a Minnesota diversion would for Halstad, Hendrum and Perley, but slightly less for Georgetown, in a 100-year flood.

Snyder and state Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, both said there's time between now and when a diversion would be in place -- estimated at eight to 10 years -- to build flood protection for the cities.

Langseth said they'll be eligible for funds in a bonding bill he will introduce when the Minnesota Legislature convenes Thursday.

Georgetown Mayor Traci Goble said the state must distribute the money, not just talk about it.

"We've got our application out there the last two years, and we haven't gotten a penny," she said.

Georgetown, Hendrum and Perley are at various stages of planning and designing levees to protect their cities to the 100-year flood level plus 3 feet of freeboard, or dry levee.

That's not high enough to handle a diversion's effects, said Diane Ista, a manager of Minnesota's Wild Rice Watershed District. Even if the cities were protected, allowing them to become islands surrounded by floodwaters isn't acceptable, she said.

"It's not adequate," she said. "There has to be other solutions so we can keep our state highways open and we can have access for the economy in our area and for agriculture."

That will require more upstream water storage on both sides of the Red River, Peterson said, adding the Natural Resources Conservation Service is one potential source of funds for small retention projects and ring dikes.

"We understand that we can't hold things up, you know, but we can't let that slip by the wayside, either," he said. "It's got to be part of the deal."

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