Significant and widespread riverine and overland flooding is occurring throughout the Red River Basin (RRB) of the North, which is affecting the ability of farmers to commence 2022 spring tillage and planting operations. At the level of flooding occurring, it will likely be mid-May before farmers will return to the fields to plant sugar beets, corn, soybeans, wheat and other commodities.
Water and drainage management authorities in the RRB have been working on flood mitigation and water storage projects for many decades to alleviate the impacts of flooding on the crops we grow. Much work has been done in the RRB since the 1970s to construct flood impoundments to store water upstream of cities, to build flood levees to protect cities, and to install farmstead ring dikes to protect on-farm infrastructure.
Over the last 20 years, there has been a significant level of financial investment in on-farm infrastructure such as grain, fertilizer, and agricultural chemical storage and handling. In addition, investments have been made in technology and to construct new machine sheds and modern farm shops to ensure the next generation of farmers can remain viable in the RRB.
Since 1976, our friends in the RRB such as the Red River Watershed Management Board (RRWMB) and its membership have co-funded and constructed 60 flood impoundments and water storage projects which has resulted in approximately 200,000 acre-feet of water storage. In addition, the RRWMB has helped co-fund 300 farmstead ring dikes to protect our on-farm investments. The RRWMB, RRB watershed districts, cities, counties, and townships have worked together to construct and maintain flood infrastructure to also protect our cities, schools, and local businesses on Main Street. A thriving and vibrant Main Street in the RRB secures our future and our social and cultural capital.
The RRWMB and its membership is currently working on several water storage projects that will result 100,000 acre-feet of new water storage in the RRB of Minnesota. Thus far, $48.8 million has been invested into these projects by the RRWMB, its membership, the State of Minnesota, and other partners to create this level of water storage. At this point, an additional $47 million is needed from the State of Minnesota’s Flood Hazard Mitigation Program to get these projects to the finish line. It is time for the Minnesota Legislature to be proactive rather than the consistent reactive nature to flooding in the RRB and state.
There has been much discussion in 2021 and 2022 by the Minnesota Legislature, individual legislators, and state agencies for more water storage to be constructed throughout Minnesota. We know from the National Weather Service and State Climatology Office that rainfall is increasing, magnitude and intensity of storm events is increasing, and this affects how often our communities and farmland are impacted by flooding.
This time is now for funding water storage needs in the RRB and it is imperative that the Legislature take this seriously. The RRB is poised and ready to meet water storage needs. This additional 100,000 acre-feet of storage outlined above will not only protect our investments but will add to the overall base of natural resources in Minnesota. Flood control and water storage in the RRB also allows us to continue to meet the food, fiber, and fuel needs of Minnesota.
The communities of Northwestern Minnesota have been committed to efforts that protect the safety of people, property, and public infrastructure through flood mitigation and water storage projects for many decades. These measures have additional long-term benefits for the environment, public health, and the viability of an important region of the state. It is necessary and proper to the state to continue to support water management across the entire state, including the needs of Minnesotans in the RRB.
A parting note - every $1 invested in hazard mitigation saves $6 according to the National Institute of Building Sciences: Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2019 Report - NIBS.
Robert Sip is executive director, Red River Watershed Management Board, Ada, Minn. On Twitter at @RRWMB_MN.