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Impressive diversion support

When both houses of Congress passed the Water Resources Reform Development Act last week by lopsided margins, supporters of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion had reason to cheer. Unlike previous water bills, the 2014 version was not a classic pork-barrel exercise. The bill had been stripped of projects deemed unfeasible or permanently stalled, and the total price of the legislation was about half the cost of the last big water projects bill.

Most importantly for Red River Valley residents, who grasp the big picture for flood protection, the bill authorizes only those projects that have cleared comprehensive analyses. All along the way, the diversion has met or exceeded standards for smart water legislation.

Critics contend the bill is only an authorization and the real test will come in the appropriation phase. That argument might have held water for previous bills. But the new bill has the benefit of having had projects vetted by merit, not by pork-barrel standards. Thus, when it comes time to appropriate money, the efficacy of projects like the diversion will have been established.

That aspect of the new bill was crucial in the House, where even the most conservative members were on the “yes” side of the 412-5 vote, including Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. And because the authorization was based on demonstrable needs and cost-effective formulae, it is likely appropriations will be more easily secured.

The Senate, which had passed its own authorization bill months ago, passed a harmonized House-Senate version of both bills 91-7 following the House vote. That’s a rare bipartisan phenomenon. North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D, and John Hoeven, R, supported the bill, as did Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D, and Al Franken, D. The bipartisan nature of the “yes” vote also underscored the bill’s viability when it comes to the appropriation phase.

And another positive provision in the legislation: Something called P3 could assign the diversion special status that would allow alternative funding methods in order to move up construction timetables. Negotiations on that front are underway.

It’s all very good news. Again, the diversion has been confirmed as the only viable long-term flood protection option for the Fargo-Moorhead area.