Minnesota grants permit for updated Red River diversion plan

Published 8:36 am Friday, December 28, 2018

FARGO, N.D. — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday it has granted a permit — with conditions — for an updated plan to divert the Red River to protect flood-prone Fargo and nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.

The diversion is a 30-mile (50-kilometer) channel that would largely divert floodwaters around the North Dakota city, as well as a dam to save the metro area from flooding.

The DNR denied a permit for the original diversion plan in October 2016, responding to complaints about the potential impact on the environment, as well as concerns that farmland in Richland County in North Dakota and Minnesota’s Wilkin County to the south of the cities would be sacrificed in the plan.

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Under the new plan — which was submitted by the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority and followed by a period of public comment — the proposed flood plain behind the dam is more than 7,000 acres smaller in Minnesota and some of the floodwaters would be diverted through the cities rather than washing out farmland.

Mary Scherling, incoming chair of the diversion authority’s board, said the project is critical for “our citizens, economy, and the future” of the Red River Valley.

“This is a major milestone for the project, but we still have a long way before we cross the finish line,” she said.

The idea for a diversion channel gained momentum after a record-setting 2009 flood that destroyed about 100 structures and caused millions of dollars in damage. Fargo, which sits lower than Moorhead, was saved only by a massive sandbagging effort by 100,000 volunteers involving more than 7 million bags.

DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr said Thursday that the new plan balances the need to reduce the flood risk with protecting public safety and the environment.