Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority
Original Publication Date:
November 27th, 2013
Wahpeton Daily News
Republished with permission from:
Editorial Team, Richland Wilkin JPA
Everybody’s cooking this week, the turkey, stuffing and the pie. But there’s more than Thanksgiving cooking going on in the valley these days. The F-M Diversion Authority has been cooking the books on their project for almost four years. They cook with experts and numbers, but they start with the answer they want, and work the calculations backwards.
Flood control for Fargo is relatively inexpensive compared to the massive cost to convert floodplain for future development. The goal of their stew is to predict as much damage as possible to the city of Fargo in the case of a 100-year flood. Then the benefits of the expensive dam/diversion looks better. The U.S. Army Corps ran the numbers, and it didn’t work. Historic river levels didn’t justify the cost of a diversion.
The estimated value of 100-year flood damage wasn’t enough, so they did something novel. They hired five water experts to sit in a room and predict the weather 50 years from now. The result was the Army Corps statisticians threw out all pre-1942 river levels from their formula. Those years included the driest years on record, and included almost 50 percent of all the historical data available on our local environment. The Army Corps’ experts predict more precipitation five decades from now – 1000 meteorologists can’t predict the weather next week, but five hydrologists can tell us how much it’s going to rain and snow in 2060. Voila, now their books show the river will be two feet higher in a big flood, and that means more potential damage. Congress loves the $2 billion dollar plan. Apparently this is kosher in bureaucratic circles. And we wonder why the government is broke?
The result of all this “crystal ball” work was the benefits are estimated to be 50 percent higher than the cost, or a benefit/cost ratio of 1.5. Anything with a benefit/cost ratio under 1.0 won’t get authorized by Congress, and for all practical purposes, nothing under 2.0 will get funded by Congress. Diversion supporters seem to think authorization is a sure thing no matter what the numbers say. The bottom line is we don’t trust what’s in the pot. Their “cooked book stew” is going to serve floodwater to the rural areas south of town so Fargo can keep their developers well fed. They think the small towns, farms and cemeteries should be content with the scraps that fall off their table. We’d like to think that everyone could sit down for the same Thanksgiving.