WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad says the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works has signed a record of decision for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, officially sending the project to Congress for potential authorization and funding.
Conrad heralded the benchmark as “one critical step closer to making (the diversion) a reality.” (Read the record of decision here.)
“Now we will continue the difficult work of convincing our colleagues in Congress that the project should be authorized and funded,” Conrad said. “Though much work remains, I am confident that at the end of the day we will deliver the permanent protection this community needs.”
Sen. John Hoeven echoed Conrad’s remarks.
“While a lot of work remains to be done, today’s signing means Congress can work toward authorizing the diversion project in a Water Resources Development Act, which is used to approve civil works projects,” Hoeven said. “We’ll continue to push hard for that in the Congress.”
Last week, the Obama Administration gave its approval for the Red River diversion to move forward, support which cleared the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ top officials to sign off on the record of decision.
Ever since the corps approved the three-year feasibility study in December, Fargo-Moorhead officials had expected the corps to hand down the record of decision in early April.
“There’s some extreme satisfaction, of course,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said today.
While the document is a positive step surely to be celebrated by local officials, it also opens the floodgates for residents wanting to officially protest the project in court.
Several communities south of Fargo-Moorhead have expressed concern over the project’s plan to temporarily store water upstream of the diversion, which could displace at least a few hundred homes and residents.
Nathan Berseth, spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition, said the record of decision “comes as no surprise to anybody.”
“We look at this as a rubber stamp in the process,” Berseth said, “but by no means does it mean the project will be funded to the level the F-M sponsors expect the project to be funded. There are many, many projects sitting on the shelf in the corps’ office in St. Paul that have a record of decision but haven’t been funded.”
Berseth said “there’s bound to be lawsuits in the future” he but didn’t indicate when such legal protests might happen.
“When it comes to saving our homes, all options are on the table,” he said.
Walaker said he expects the lawsuits, too, but he also reiterated the Diversion Authority‘s efforts to ease the upstream impacts however possible.
One major solution local officials are hoping for is to increase the allowable river flows through downtown Fargo-Moorhead, which would allow the diversion to be used less frequently and decrease the need for water storage south of the metro.
“We’ve been working at this for a long time,” Walaker said. “I don’t want anybody to give up hope that we can’t do anything.”
The Red River diversion has been fast-tracked through the bureaucratic red-tape needed to send such a public works plan to Congress.
Local officials waited barely four months between the Army Corps chief’s approval of the diversion study and the assistant Army secretary’s record of decision.
In comparison, Fargo-Moorhead officials have been waiting for four years on a record of decision for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project.
That plan, estimated at $660 million, is meant to ensure drinking and municipal water supply for eastern North Dakota communities, like Fargo, in times of drought. That project entails shuttling Missouri River water to eastern North Dakota by way of a manmade canal and pipeline system to the Sheyenne River, which drains into the Red north of Fargo.
Posted 5 p.m. Updated 5:55 p.m.