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'Waffle' plan could reduce flooding along Red River

A proposal called the "waffle plan" to temporarily store water in fields could decrease peak flood stages along the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead by 3.6 feet to 4.5 feet, a researcher said Thursday.

The proposal would save in excess of $500 million under more than half of 22 spring flooding scenarios studied by the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center.

"I think it is important to note that the primary beneficiary would be Fargo," Bethany Kurz, a senior research manager at the center, told a gathering of the Red River Basin Commission meeting in Fargo.

The waffle method would use raised rural roads that already exist, as well as installing gates on culverts, to temporarily hold back floodwater after the spring thaw on fields of participating landowners who would receive payments.

The study confined its examination of economic benefits to three urban centers and one town along the Red River: Wahpeton-Breckenridge, Fargo-Moorhead, Grand Forks-East Grand Forks and Drayton, N.D.

But benefits actually would be more widespread, Kurz said, noting that some counties spend more than $1 million to repair flood-damaged roads. On average, runoff could decrease by 38 percent from temporary "waffle" storage, through seepage and evaporation.

On the other hand, Kurz acknowledged that the proposal is controversial among landowners, including farmers who are concerned about delayed access to their fields at spring planting.

"It would be a challenge socially to implement this," she said. Also, reimbursements to landowners would be based on cash rents, which have gone up since the economic analysis because of soaring commodity prices.

In other discussions, Joe Belford, a Ramsey County commissioner and liaison on addressing Devils Lake flooding, said a new task force will examine what should be done now that Devils Lake has overflowed and merged with Stump Lake, once a "safety valve" for excess water.

"We've lost our last reservoir," he said. If the lake - which has been rising for almost 15 years - continues to climb, the town of Minnewaukan could be threatened, he said.

Jeff Volk of Moore Engineering, who is working with the city of Fargo on alternatives to protect against south-side flooding, said four options that range in cost from $100 million to $150 million would protect against a 100-year flood, a worse event than the 1997 flood.

The options are designed to protect against flooding from the Wild Rice River. Retention projects to hold back water alone would not do the job, Volk said. Some degree of diversion also is required.

The area protected is important not only to existing property, but Fargo's future, he said.

"It is Fargo's growth area, very clearly," he said of the area to be protected, including tracts beyond current city boundaries.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to