Guest Post: Corps Using Questionable Numbers On Fargo Diversion


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has been engaging in some highly questionable analysis in its definition of the 100-year flood plain in Fargo-Moorhead. As a result, the Corps’ Dam/Diversion is quickly losing its claim to being a cost-effective project.

FEMA has recently reviewed historical flood data and is expected to set the 100-year flood level at 39.5 feet. The Corps, however, has dropped the historical flood data from the dry years prior to 1940 so their 100-year flood level comes to a higher level, 42.4 feet. The higher the 100-year flood, the better the benefit/cost ratio they can show Congress in order to get the diversion project funded.

This is a clever tactic, but not an honest one. It’s like telling our children they can just throw out their lowest test scores to artificially boost their grades.

How flood levels are defined becomes very critical as we see how both cities have been tackling the flood problem through local initiatives. These local protection measures have made the diversion project, as currently conceived, economically unfeasible. As a result, the Corps is attempting to manipulate the flood levels to create an illusion that the project is worthwhile. In other words, they are playing with the numbers.

In recent years, Moorhead has built levees and implemented flood control measures that provide protection for floods below a 44-foot flood level. Fargo has built similar levees and undertaken flood control measures, and it appears that in a few years, they will have flood protection up to the 43-foot flood stage level. So, these past and ongoing flood protection measures insure the dam/diversion project would not meet the benefit/cost formula that determines whether the federal government will invest in a project, because little damage can be shown from a future flood of either 39.5 feet or even 43 feet.

On May 16, 2010 the Fargo Forum published an article that indicates that the Corps, but not FEMA, was raising the 100-year flood plain level to 42.4 feet. The 2010 Forum article quotes Craig Evans of the Corps, commenting on the Corps’ process. Evans stated that it was an “unusual move for the Corps, and one that does not translate to other cities along the Red River. It’s something that seems to be occurring at Fargo and Moorhead that isn’t necessarily transferable to any other place.” Clearly, the Corps and the Diversion Authority are trying to inflate the numbers by using what they term a “non-traditional hydrological method” (FEIS, Main Report July 2011 3.5.9).

The apparent goal is to artificially raise the project’s benefit/cost ratio from their initial value of 0.95 (FEIS , Main Report July 2011, Table 5 – Phase 2 cost-effectiveness analysis) to 2.26 (FEIS, Main Report July 2011, Table 1 –Phase 3 cost-effectiveness analysis result). Their motive was to increase the benefit/cost ratio of their project so Congress would fund it. With its “non-traditional” method, it is clear that the Corps is manipulating the data to get Federal funding.

Perry Miller is a lifelong resident of North Dakota. He grew up on a farm in Richland County. He is a graduate of NDSCS in Wahpeton, and North Dakota State University in Fargo. Perry is a small business owner with commercial interests in both western and eastern North Dakota. He is married with three children, two sons who attend NDSU and a daughter in high school. His wife Denise grew up in Sheridan County, ND. A former township supervisor, Perry is serving his third term as a Richland County commissioner. He is Chairman of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, and political organization set up to defend against the flooding of Richland and Wilkin Counties that will result from Fargo’s plan to dam the Wild Rice and Red Rivers, creating a 50,000 acre reservoir south of the FM area. The Richland Wilkin JPA membership includes over 35 political entities including 3 counties, 16 townships, 10 cities, and 2 school districts from southeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

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  • John_Wayne_American

    As much as I understand the concerns of the folks south of Fargo, what really has me worried over the whole flooding issue, is a 4-5 day 10-15″ inch rain event between Fargo and the SD line, we seem to be able to battle slow long forecasted spring snow melt floods, but a nasty big rain event like the one that hit Nashville TN 3 years ago will be very hard to sandbag or build temporary clay dikes for.

    having said that..
    I don’t think a 2 billion dollar project will be the perfect answer,

    Federal rules from EPA to Wetlands and stream preservation to downstream flows and urban expansion they all add up to box this project every which way but up. And that’s before you get into any funding issues.

    If Bismarck had any real leaders, we would just run the feds the hell out of town and build it as a state project, but then MN would get their undies all a twisted when they had to pay their share.

    I honestly believe that a state project, like West Fargo’s and the Devils lake outlet and levy projects would be far cheaper than the Fed and their Union scale projects would cost.

    If we do wind up spending 2 Billion dollars lets get our freaking moneys worth by planning and building beyond just flood protection.

    I would build a diversion with a Interstate bypass designed into it. as well as power transmission lines and other infrastructure, It would include a ring dike and drainage system for both towns north and south of Fargo and provide West Fargo some room to grow to the West. It would be much straighter than the current zig zaggy route, and possibly create some small recreational areas like Buffalo river state park where river water could be channeled into a small lake area with a swim beach. All it would take would be gated culverts.

    But Fargo will get what Fargo wants, and as long as King Denny and his stacked city council of lefty Dems see the US treasury as ripe for the pickings, they will get their dam and the rest of us will get the bill in the form of special assessments and higher taxes.

    • Marcus

      A 4-5 day 10-15″ would cause flooding no matter where it would occur.

      Fargo has created a unique dilemma for itself by destroying the natural flood plain buffers around it. By displacing that water into a higher elevation in the river channel…, Fargo is creating it’s own worst nightmare.

      Fargo has changed the Red River base flood approx 18″ inches since 1969.

      The USACE manipulated their 100 and 500 year flood levels to reflect the change without holding Fargo responsible for the prior water displacement(s).

      The new 100 and 500 year flood elevation for the Corps are bogus.

      The USACE changed the numbers to make the cost/benefit ratios work and to instill fear and concern into people comparing the 2009 flood to the Corps colorful map of week.

      In reality, the maps that show 100 year impacts are more akin to 125+ year floods.