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Farm bill funds may fight floods

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson wants a provision in the next federal farm bill that would set aside $50 million a year to fund retention projects in the Red River Valley.

"If we can get this done - and I don't see any reason why we can't - it would give us the money we need to get the retention in place by the time the diversion gets built," said Peterson, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 7th District, which includes Clay County.

The retention projects alone would cost about $1 billion, and Peterson's proposed earmark would only help fund those, not a Red River diversion that would protect Fargo-Moorhead.

If the funding came through for 10 years, the federal share toward the retention projects would be covered. Local and state governments would still need to fund the remaining $500 million.

Peterson's method to fund the retention projects through a mandatory program in the farm bill isn't common.

The first time a project was earmarked in such a way - by Peterson - was in the last farm bill, when a similar amount of money was secured for projects improving water quality and habitats in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

Peterson has the power to allocate the money this way because he heads the House Agricultural Committee, which drafts the farm bill.

He said he has support from local, state and federal officials in North Dakota and Minnesota who see this as the best option to obtain the necessary dollars to improve retention in the Red River Valley.

"The diversion is going along fine. The part of it that we need to get fixed is the retention, so we can take the threat away from the downstream communities," Peterson said. "It's a lot of money for the retention, but it has to be done, and it can be done. My goal is to set this up so we can get the right process in place so we have a successful outcome at the end of the day."

Peterson said there will be a meeting in early July to discuss his proposal with officials from the Red River Basin Commission in Minnesota, the North Dakota State Water Commission and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.