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OP-ED: Water Infrastructure Protects Communities, Safeguard Farms, Prevents Insurance Spikes

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, penned an op-ed in the Washington Times on flood control and mitigation efforts in North Dakota and the mid- and long-term economic benefits of water infrastructure investments.

“For over one hundred years, North Dakotans braced themselves in March and April while praying for a slow, rain-free melt. The memories of the Souris River and Missouri River floods of 2011 and the Red River Valley floods of 1997 and 2009 are vivid: dikes piled high with sandbags, roofs of homes peeking above the murky river, and standing water over farmland as far as the eye can see,” wrote Senator Cramer.

“On the federal level, I helped craft and negotiate recently enacted laws like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 from my seat on Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittees. These bills provide critical resources to North Dakota, including $592 million for water and flood mitigation. Sustained federal partnership with the state will help North Dakotans sleep a little better, without worrying about how high the water will rise or if the levee will hold,” continued Senator Cramer.

“Make no mistake: North Dakota will continue to flood. Thankfully, we avoided severe floods this year, but luck is not an adequate mitigation strategy. Our communities and economies are worth protecting. I look forward to the completion of these projects and finally celebrating the joys of spring without the heartache (and backache) of fighting another flood,” concluded Senator Cramer.

Water infrastructure protects communities, safeguard farms, prevents insurance spikes

By Senator Kevin Cramer

Washington Times

5.17.2023

Managing water matters. North Dakota’s snowy winters and wildcard spring weather can combine to form the perfect storm for flooding. Come the spring melt, our greatest concern is preventing floodwaters from washing over entire communities.

From the Souris to the Red River, water infrastructure is essential in our battle against the springtime onslaught of rain and melting snow. Our state is no stranger to this challenge. For over one hundred years, North Dakotans braced themselves in March and April while praying for a slow, rain-free melt. The memories of the Souris River and Missouri River floods of 2011 and the Red River Valley floods of 1997 and 2009 are vivid: dikes piled high with sandbags, roofs of homes peeking above the murky river, and standing water over farmland as far as the eye can see.

In Grand Forks, the spring of 1997 brought back-to-back blizzards and a hundred-year flood, which some residents still refer to as the Flizzard. The predicted crest increased overnight and the river rose five feet over the city’s dikes, several of which broke under the immense stress. A little over a decade later, the Red River Valley flooded again with Fargo as the epicenter. Despite the memory of 1997, it was hard to believe another hundred-year flood would hit the valley, and residents fought the rising river through rain and sleet. Across the state, the Souris River Basin, which runs through Minot, experienced a late-spring flood in May 2011. Despite a reprieve after the first crest, a second wave forced two rounds of evacuations. Not only did it crest several feet above the previous record, but it also flowed over twice the highest recorded rate. The water drowned out Minot’s levees and displaced a quarter of its residents.

Millions of sandbags later, these floods cost billions in physical damages. Thankfully, North Dakotans did not sit idly by waiting to get hit again. Grand Forks completed its flood protection project in 2007, consisting of a levee which retains water from the flooding river and a diversion channel that moves overflowing water to the west side of the city.

In Minot, over $71 million has been utilized to build out infrastructure, mitigating the effects of another 2011-type flood. This is all tied into the larger state and federal Souris River Flood Protection Plan, which I helped authorize in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020. To their credit, cities across the state took the initiative and raised billions for flood prevention efforts. None of these projects are silver bullets, but they are long-term investments in the safety of North Dakotans and the stability of our economy.

The Fargo area is nearing the completion of its diversion project, adding onto the flood-fighting infrastructure like bolstered walls and dikes. While the vast majority of the funding was a result of local efforts, hundreds of millions in federal funds from the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act have supplemented the project.

On the federal level, I helped craft and negotiate recently enacted laws like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 from my seat on Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittees. These bills provide critical resources to North Dakota, including $592 million for water and flood mitigation. Sustained federal partnership with the state will help North Dakotans sleep a little better, without worrying about how high the water will rise or if the levee will hold.

Proactive infrastructure investment saves taxpayers billions in damages. While expensive, it is also only a fraction of the cost of fighting a flood without it. Cities will be able to deal with flooding as if it were expected rather than a catastrophe. We’ll also reduce costly federal flood insurance requirements on thousands of homes and prevent massive increases in premiums. Better managing water ensures farmers can access their land for spring planting, limiting the need for federal crop indemnity payments.

Make no mistake: North Dakota will continue to flood. Thankfully, we avoided severe floods this year, but luck is not an adequate mitigation strategy. Our communities and economies are worth protecting. I look forward to the completion of these projects and finally celebrating the joys of spring without the heartache (and backache) of fighting another flood.

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