Guest Post: Fargo Leaders Have Devised A Plan To Push Their Flood Problem Onto Someone Else


“Natural flood plain” is a phrase that has been getting some attention recently. Flood plains serve as natural flood protection. When a river is allowed to spread out it reduces the height of flood for everyone. Conversely, when a flood plain is eliminated by development, the river level naturally rises in the main stem, impacting everyone in the basin.

There is a large natural flood plain just south of Fargo. You can see an aerial picture of this flood plain in action.

The photo shows water naturally stored in the area just south of Davies High at a time when the Red River at the Fargo gage was at 38 feet. Engineers tell us that this flood plain is what protects Fargo from the Wild Rice River and that this natural water storage area is what prevented Fargo from flooding in 1997. This flood plain contains a storage capacity of over 100,000 acre feet of flood water.

Imagine the Red River Basin as a cake pan ˝ full of water. Drop in a brick and the water rises dramatically. The bigger the cake pan, the less rise to the water; the more bricks, the higher the water.

Fargo’s past ill advised developments have bricked up the Red River cake pan, raising the river levels by eliminating the natural flood plain. Rather than correct this problem by halting flood plain encroachment, Fargo continues to add bricks.

Eagle Pointe First Addition, south east of Davies High is the latest example. Fargo developers, with City approval, are using fill to raise the elevation of this area, which was well below the 39.5 foot 100 year level, forcing the water onto others.

Faced with a problem of their own creation, Fargo leaders devised a way to push the problem onto someone else. Amazingly, Fargo’s Diversion Plan will eliminate the entire flood plain depicted in the referenced photo to the right, destroying over 100,000 acre feet of natural storage, and displacing this water behind a dam four miles south of the area shown. The dam would flood the rural communities to Fargo’s south with 200,000 acre of water. Fargo leaders want to eliminate this flood plain, not for protection, but for Fargo’s future development: more bricks in the cake pan.

What if the problem wasn’t water, but pollution: toxic smog dangerous to life and property, created by Fargo’s poor planning, poor government and greed? Would anyone seriously entertain a solution that would transfer the whole problem onto rural communities, allowing and encouraging Fargo to continue with the same behavior that created the problem in the first place? Would Fargo’s demand that the state spend 100s of millions of dollars to transfer the problem onto rural communities seem reasonable?

We request that rural representatives consider limiting the funds given to Fargo to legitimate flood protection, and deny funding for Fargo’s plan to build a dam to further develop the flood plain.

Dan Zink is a native North Dakotan and holds degrees in Agricultural Economics from North Dakota State University. He currently serves as Director of Administration for the Red River Valley & Western Railroad Company in Wahpeton, ND. In this capacity he is engaged in analysis of strategic planning and capital investment initiatives, and oversees the finance, HR, and property functions of the company. He resides in Oxbow, ND, with his wife, Cindy, and two teenage boys. He is active in community affairs in both Wahpeton and Oxbow, and currently serves on the Oxbow City Council.

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  • EJ

    What makes this plan even more unreasonable is that Fargo has rejected alternatives proposed by the Army Corps that would have provided equal protection, at less cost and without the destructive dam and 80 square mile reservoir. Those plans did not however, drain the flood plain south of town or provide for tax subsidized development of the same flood plain.

    • Marcus

      Speaking of flood plain development. When you displace water from a natural flood plain “everyone” is at greater risk as a result.

      • caeslinger

        Yeah, that’s an inaccurate picture and at least for this area, factually inaccurate as well.

        • Marcus

          In what way?

          • caeslinger

            The breached levee flood plain is nearly the same (would be the same if both sides are breached) in this area because of the topography and the lack of development between sites that have protection. You can have very localized greater effects in the initial area of a breach, but definitely not widespread.

            Secondly, not all of the Minnesota side is that much significantly lower than the Fargo side. Most of it is due to the expansion of Fargo into low lying areas, the same that exist as in Oakport and then south by Trollwood. It does increase in height much faster than the Fargo side to be sure though.

            Water displacement does effect those in areas directly adjacent to the flood works to an extent, either with slightly higher levels or duration (such as Harwood currently due to the Sheyenne diversion). That same thing would/could happen without the proper planning of this diversion. And is happening upstream because of poor engineering by the Corps’ part.

          • caeslinger

            Hmmm. Post did not appear.

            Basically, the topography of the area will allow any breach to nearly meet the old flood plain height, not the new one as is shown. Technically you would need both sides to breach, and you would still have very localized greater effects in the immediate area of the breach. But nothing near what your image conveys.

            Secondly, the difference in height between the 2 sides of the river is misleading, very misleading.

          • Marcus


            The height difference between MN and ND is a factual cross section based on lidar data from the International Water Institute.

            The old and new 100 yr flood plain elevation are based on the Corps (questionable) numbers.

            What is apparent in the illustration is prior to Fargo’s development of a natural flood plain, the area in MN was not at risk.

            I agree, if a breach were to occur that the water would spread out into the plain and the peak water level would drop in the channel…, however, that is not what Fargo, Cass County, the Diversion Authority or the USACE are postulating.

          • caeslinger

            In certain areas, that may be correct, Marcus. However, there are also areas of Fargo that are easily that high (Carl Ben is one example) and areas of the MN metro (already mentioned) that are the opposite.

            With a catastrophic flood all of the river valley for 10 miles wide in this area is flooded, the flood works will have virtually no effect on the final height of the water in much of the flooded metro.

          • Marcus


            On average the areas on Minnesota north to south via Moorhead area are higher than North Dakota. That feature extends nearly all the way to Breckenridge.

            According to USACE data, a 500 year flood would make it approx 20th in Mhd, however, they don’t stress that the depth may be less than 1 inch.

            There are many areas in Fargo that would only have and inch or two of water in a 500 year flood as well.

    • caeslinger

      So which plans were these, EJ? Was this is the MN option?

      • EJ

        The Mn option took took 31 miles out of the flood plain and did not include a dam and reservoir. Fargo was successful in having the ND plan adopted, at a much greater cost to local and state tax payors. The ND plan more than doubled the size of the project and required a dam and reservior to address the greater impacts. During this process the Corps value engineering team suggested moving the inlet back to where it would have been with the MN plan, 4 miles closer to Fargo and north of the confluence of Wild Rice River. This, according the team, would have saved 142,000,000 just in construction cost as no “control structure” would have to be built on the Wild Rice. Additionally it would have employed the natural flood plain just south of the northern inlet, as did the MN plan. This plan/option was rejected, and not even explored as, according to the Corps, it conflicted with Fargo’s plans for future development.

  • caeslinger

    I do respect the idea that people do not want their land/structures flooded and thereby basically ‘taken’ by an entity of government.

    But, as of yet, after I hear these complaints time after time, I fail to hear what they believe the solution should be for the expansion of the FM area.

    Is it building only on areas that are not currently in a flood plain, based on current plans with the existing development.

    Is it building in new areas but then protecting them by new flood works.

    Is it not allowing flood works to be constructed to protect existing developments and only allowing development to take place on existing developed property.

    I have plenty of issues with the Corps’ plan, and I think energy to combat the current plan would be best used to have them revise their (flawed) engineering.

    • Marcus

      Interesting question(s).

      If we ask the question what has caused the Red River mainstem flood to increase over time, it directly rests on the shoulders of Fargo’s irresponsible development and water displacement from natural flood plains.

      The entire proposed project needs to go back to square one on the drawing board.

      ZERO impact on natural flood plains would be a good start.

      • caeslinger

        ZERO impact is a fallacy, LESSEN the impacts is an actual goal.

        I’m not sure what large scale development issues you call irresponsible on Fargo’s behalf, and that is the type of discussion I have a problem with. That conveys the idea that there should be NO development anywhere in the region because it’s nearly all flood plain.

        The increased river levels have some correlation to the amount of water that has been taken out of storage, but then do we not have to account for storage upstream from Fargo that currently exists?

        • Marcus

          caeslinger, Fargo’s cumulative intrusion into natural flood plains changes the BFE (base flood elevation)…, Aaron Snyder of the UASCE has admitted to that publicly on more than one occasion.

          FEMA as well as the state of North Dakota have rules regarding water displacement and changing of the BFE.

          Fargo and Cass County could easily require that any build site use existing spoil to bring the elevation above the 100yr flood plain and require and add 20% storage to each build site. If the property does not have enough spoil, capacity or is unstable…simple…don’t build there.

          • caeslinger

            So, the solution is to build holes as deep as possible all over FM – and leave them dry until a time when a human has to decide when and how much to fill them.

            It more sounds that you’re proposing to just halt development in this area. To say it can easily be done, doesn’t mean it can easily be done. It’s enormously costly and burdensome to do what you’re suggesting.

            What is your vision for the development of the area? And what do you see happening if what you suggest (although I’m not sure what that is) takes place?

          • Marcus

            One “option” that could serve as a solution.

            It wouldn’t cost taxpayers $2-4 billion in the process.

            The cost would rest solely on the shoulders of the developer of the property and the implementation could be immediate.

            It wouldn’t look much different than areas along Rose Coulee and Osgood.

            The only exception would be that there wouldn’t be levee’s.

            Instead the structures would be built above the 100yr flood plain and the remaining green space would be available for emergency water storage when needed.

            The current proposal of building multiple high risk dams is foolish…, every way you look at it.

          • caeslinger

            OK, that’s a start, but what about the current FM area? After all, the current reduction in water storage is the only reason for the ‘high hazard dam’ that the Corps’ plan presents instead of a Duff’s Ditch approach as was done in Winnipeg.

            I’ll even give you that there is benefits to making each development above the flood plain. But that, no matter how you look at it, is never a zero sum game for reducing flood potential for those people, and you still have to build protection around those developments as a whole to protect infrastructure.

          • Marcus

            I did not say I am against Fargo protecting it’s current infrastructure within the current city limits.

            However, I am fully opposed to relocating natural flood plain water onto others for the sake of creating development that will be at greater risk of future flooding during spring or summer rain events.

          • caeslinger

            So you expect people to build in the natural flood plain … on stilts basically? Or with on concrete slabs that basically have everything functional above that first level?

            And again, the ENTIRE reason that the diversion has a high hazard dam is because of the CURRENT amount that the FM Metro displaces already, not the new flood plain, which they have a planned 200k acre foot storage area INSIDE the diversion footprint to resolve that issue.

          • Marcus


            You are absolutely incorrect with your last reply.

          • EJ

            Caeslinger, I’ve been following your points up to now. But you jumped the shark with this one. The “footprint” takes 71 miles out of the flood plain and piles that water on communites up stream that do not presently flood. Part of the area “drained” by this project, the area south of Davies extending to the location of the dam, is depicted in the picture. This area normally stores – what, 60,000 – 100,000 acre feet of water during a moderate flood? Fargo seeks to “displace” this water onto southern Cass and northern Richland, northern Clay and southern Wilkin counties, in a reservoir covering communities, home and farms that have never flooded. I mean never in the sense that these acres have not flooded since Europeans started moving in. If Fargo would leave the flood plain south of Davies High intact – they wouldn’t need to pile that same amount of acre feet of water on the upstream folks with a dam. Do you disagree?

        • yy4u2

          What was FM population say 200 years ago? Now? And on Lake (key word) Agassiz? If one uses the right voice inflection, your statement, “That conveys the idea that there should be No Developement anywhere in the region because it’s nearly all flood plain” rings home now doesn’t it.
          Can’t fix stupid and can’t beat Mother Nature. Whose going to be responsible for the “damn, we didn’t see that one (flood) coming” the next time it happens? Everyone chip in because Fargo needs it? I have visions of an ad where a person is tossing their life savings into a toilet while some politician is pulling the lever telling the viewer how good of an idea this is.

          • caeslinger

            Again. I don’t get this argument. Are you suggesting that the entirety of the 200,000 pop metro and the rest of the valley residents be moved out of it and nobody live here? Because by bringing up Lake Agassiz – completely out of context no less – is what I infer then from your statement.

            The solution at hand is what can be done with the conditions we currently have. Not the fact that pioneers 150 years ago settled in the wrong area.

          • Marcus


            There is nowhere near 200,000 people that will benefit from the proposed project.

            That is simply rhetoric Fargo is using as headline points.

            The current proposal is not a solution at all.

            It is, however, a creation of new problems, new risks, indeterminate costs…and a potential dangerous precedent for future land-owner rights.

          • caeslinger

            Wow, you must have taken the ‘Napalm debate course’ somewhere. You know, the one that distorts and lies about what someone says to try to make them look terrible. Let’s review.

            I did not say 200,000 would benefit from this project. My 200,000 pop reference was to the previous posters suggestion about this being Lake Agassiz and the inference that the entire valley is a flood plain, which would put ALL of Fargo/Moorhead in the flood plain.

            However, beyond that, to what extent does a project like this benefit someone indirectly even though they don’t specifically need it for flood protection? Is their place of business to be affected? Schools? Sewer, other infrastructure? Other parts of the general economy?

            Again, just tell me one time what you think the flood protection solution is for Fargo, just so I know where you are coming from.

          • Marcus

            caeslinger, please re-read the reply.

            The 200,000 reference was directed at Fargo…not you.

            …and yes, Fargo has used 200,000 people as a lie repeatedly.

          • yy4u2

            It isn’t so much an argument as it is logic. If a person finds themselves in a hole, they should quit digging. Or in Fargo’s case, they should stop building. This wouldn’t be looked at as an argument if people had used the brains that God gave a goose, and the fact that they didn’t shouldn’t cost me or someone in Tioga or down in San Diego one tax dollar. Not one.

          • caeslinger

            That is not a logical solution at all. So people should stop building where the tornado risk is too great, because global warming will eventually flood the coasts, etc. Why not just suggest you shouldn’t build where there are fires, mudslides, blizzards, too cold (contributes to global warming) … I could go on.

            Deal with the problem as it exists.

            And by the way, Tioga has benefited greatly from the income taxes and sales taxes generated by Fargo, so we’ll just take that money and build our own flood protection as you wish then.

          • Marcus


            That’s easy!

            If you don’t create a flood risk, one will not exist.

            Development can be controlled.

            Mother Nature cannot…

            Why would anyone with common sense build where the water is most likely to flow or pool?

          • caeslinger

            The flood risk is already here, Marcus, unfortunately.

            I wholeheartedly agree that the development since 1997 should have been curtailed in certain areas by increasing development cost to combat flooding.

            But are we suggesting that if you take all the development south of 52nd avenue to the proposed diversion dam, ring diked around it, but, somehow provided ‘storage’ facilities inside of it, that would be acceptable? I can’t imagine it should be given the complaints that I hear, although they could technically show no impact.

            Why were there no outcries over what protection Grand Forks decided to use? Suggestion being that any future development would be protected by a similar solution, I’m assuming. It’s the same problem that exists with the diversion, just pushing it downstream instead of up.

          • Marcus


            Fargo is creating a new flood and greater flood risk with the flood risk that occurs naturally.

          • caeslinger

            As do the majority of developments around the world – building in an area of risk. The question is how to alleviate those.

            I think we’ve agreed upon the one item, that developments in the flood plain, whether the greater area is protected or now, should bear more direct burden of the protection/avoidance.

          • camsaure

            Simple, if you don’t like the deal, you should probably throw in your cards and shoudn’t have been playing in the first place.

          • yy4u2

            Some of the richest farmland in the world and people covered it up with streets, houses and businesses. I’m not against that. Did I mention it is along a river that floods more often than not? How logical was it to continue building? How logical is it to displace a few others off and of their land just because a bunch of people made very poor decisions?
            I noticed you didn’t mention building on the rim of a volcano. How about below sea level as was the case of New Orleans? What happens if Fargo gets this and it fails? Quit creating such foreseeable problems so they don’t exist. Quit having others not connected nor concerned pay for those horribly obvious mistakes.

          • camsaure

            Build w2herever the hell you want, do not6 expevct the rest of us to have tyo subsidize your decisions.

          • EJ

            It’s even worse than that Camsaure, Fargo wants us subsidize not only their past mistakes, but their future ones as well: billions of dollars worth of future mistakes.

          • camsaure

            HUH? I am totally against this boondoggle. What makes you think that I am for it?