Forum editorial: DNR finds retention can’t do it

By The Forum Editorial Board, Opinion Section (republished with permission from The Forum)

A preliminary report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources all but endorses the findings of several agencies and private engineers that water retention impoundment alone cannot provide the level of permanent flood protection the F-M diversion will guarantee. The DNR has not issued a final report, but the water retention finding concludes that the retention option, while possibly an element of an overall flood protection strategy, is not the silver bullet that opponents of the diversion say it is.

No kidding. Study after study by highly qualified analysts has concluded the same thing. The DNR’s welcome agreement with other studies adds another important layer of credibility to the common-sense side of the retention argument. The DNR’s work is especially important because opponents of the project were assuming the Minnesota agency would be in their camp on the retention question. But as if to polish its credentials as a serious agency, the DNR shunned emotional hearsay and political pander, and instead did good fact-based analyses.

The reality in the Red River Basin, especially upstream of Fargo-Moorhead, is that there is little appetite among landowners to offer up land for retention basins. Don’t believe it? Despite there being money available to compensate farmers, only three retention projects have been completed since 1997, and one of them is downstream from Fargo. Despite the noise from upstream landowners who have been objecting strenuously to the diversion, and insisting retention is a better option, none have stepped forward with significant offers of land for water retention.

The DNR’s report takes the land-availability factor into consideration, and suggests that the more than 90 individual impoundments that would be necessary to achieve meaningful retention would never be acquired. Given the history of a watershed where ditching and draining, not retention, has been modus operandi for generations, that’s an accurate and pragmatic assessment.

The sane retention conclusion does not mean the DNR will support every aspect of the diversion. The agency likely will object to or urge modifications in project features the agency believes will negatively affect Minnesota.

Meanwhile, diversion opponents can be counted on to spin the DNR’s preliminary report to fit their fact-starved narrative. But the latest science-based assessment further exposes the myth of retention’s efficacy as the flood protection solution. And the diversion remains on budget and on track.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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