Red River Valley’s water-retention projects to seek federal funds
FARGO — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated the Red River Basin as a region with dire conservation needs, which means local efforts to mitigate floods through water retention are eligible this year for a share of $400 million in federal money.
The Red River Retention Authority, a partnership of water management districts in North Dakota and Minnesota, plans to apply for these funds by July to support its work of securing land and building impoundments to temporarily hold back floodwater, said Pat Downs, the authority’s executive director.
“The landowners will be fairly compensated for any land of theirs that would be used,” Downs said.
The authority’s goal is to reduce the severe flood flows on the Red River by 20 percent. To achieve that, retention projects in the basin need to hold 1.5 million acres of water that’s 1 foot deep. So far, the authority has 200,000 acre-feet of capacity and needs 1.3 million more, Downs said.
The main purpose of the retention projects is to ease flooding in rural areas, but there’s the added benefit of lowering the water levels in cities along the Red River, Downs said.
“You’re going to store water during peak flows and then release it when downstream conditions can handle it,” he said. “You’re just kind of slowing the flow a little bit.”
The newly appropriated federal funds would come through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which was created by the 2014 farm bill. This week, the USDA announced that conservation projects in the Red River Basin and seven other regions around the country could apply for the funding, which would require local matching funds.
In March, the U.S. senators from Minnesota and North Dakota, along with Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack urging the inclusion of the Red River Basin in the program so the Retention Authority could potentially receive funding.
“In addition to addressing flood reduction, water retention on agricultural lands will also help to improve water quality in the basin,” the letter stated. “Creating permanent and seasonal wetlands and water storage in the Red River Basin would also greatly benefit wildlife habitat.”
Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said the program won’t fund the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel around the Fargo-Moorhead area, but that the Diversion Authority supports the work of the Retention Authority.
“We view retention as complementary to the diversion,” he said.