The National Weather Service in Grand Forks issued its 2019 Flood Outlook Forecast for the Red River Basin (RRB) last week. With additional snowfall over the weekend and more falling with the current blizzard, the message is that some flooding is likely in the RRB. Despite this prediction, watershed districts in the Minnesota portion of the RRB have continued to focus on water storage projects and efforts.

    The Red River Watershed Management Board (RRWMB) in the RRB of Minnesota has helped fund 45 flood damage reduction projects since being formed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1976. These projects are constructed, managed, and operated by the RRWMBs member watershed districts. Close to 200,000 acre-feet of water storage has been created by the construction of these projects. These projects have a total drainage area of 1,669 square miles. The RRWMB has allocated close to $22 million for these 45 projects while local watershed districts have contributed $9.6 million. The State of Minnesota and other funding sources have contributed $51 million for these projects. These investments protect millions of dollars of public and private infrastructure in the RRB.

    The RRWMB and its member watershed districts also have 11 additional flood damage reduction projects in various stages of survey, design, engineering, permitting, and funding. The RRWMB has committed approximately $23.568 million towards these projects that include urban protection and levees and rural flood impoundments. The RRWMB and its members leverage funds primarily from state sources to develop and construct projects. These projects can and do incorporate natural resource enhancements, which provide:

    • Better water quality by reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and erosion.

    • Potential to reduce sediment loading and algae blooms.

    • Protection and enhancement of naturally occurring fen wetlands.

    • Large habitat blocks for wildlife.

    • Nesting, resting, feeding, brooding, and rearing habitat areas for migrating waterfowl.

    • Shorebird and upland game habitat.

    • Low flow augmentation for fish habitat.

    • Storage via restored wetlands to hold and retain water on the landscape for longer periods of time while providing agricultural drainage benefits.

    • Protection and enhancement of habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species.

    The RRWMB is also a member of the Red River Retention Authority (RRRA), which is a joint powers organization between the RRWMB and the Red River Joint Water Resource District. The RRRA is administering and coordinating a partnership agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to provide funding for the implementation of PL556 watershed protection projects in the RRB. Approximately $12 million was received to develop 20 projects in the RRB. More information can be found at the RRRA website at: https://www.redriverretentionauthority.net/

    While many cities in the RRB have been protected since 1997, there is still much work remaining to protect public infrastructure outside of urban areas. Township, county, and state road, bridges, culverts, and drainage ditches are some of the public infrastructure that these projects protect. Regarding private infrastructure, the RRWMB and its member watershed districts have funded 270 farmstead and rural ring dikes since 1997 to protect farmsteads and on-farm agricultural infrastructure such as certified seed storage, general grain storage, grain handling systems, chemical storage, machine sheds and shops, and related items. The total amount spent on farmstead and rural ring dikes by the RRWMB, member watershed districts, State of Minnesota, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is approximately $10.85 million.

    These projects, whether already constructed or in various phases of survey, design, engineering, permitting, and funding can help meet water retention, water quality, and habitat goals and objectives of various local, state, regional, federal, and international plans/initiatives. Efforts and goals of the RRWMB and its member watershed districts may align with these plans/initiatives related to nutrient reduction strategies, wetland conservation, preservation of native prairie, waterfowl management, shorebird conservation, and wildlife management strategies.

    The RRWMB and its member watershed districts will continue its efforts to protect public and private infrastructure in the RRB not only in Minnesota but with the RRRA and other partners.