January 01, 2012

Flood Control on the Red River as a Complex Environmental Decision System

Jonathan P. Scoll

This article is a case study of environmental decision making within a complex system, the Red River Basin (Basin). It explores the competing interests and policies that drive flood control efforts in the Basin of the upper Plains, taking as a point of departure the review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for a major flood control project involving the paired Red River cities of Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota (Fargo–Moorhead). Fargo–Moorhead, together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), proposed a flood protection project that would include a 36-mile long, $1.7 billion diversion channel (the Fargo–Moorhead Diversion) to intercept flood flow upstream (south) of the two cities, conduct it in a semicircle to the west, and return it to the river channel at a point downstream (north) of the cities. The environmental impact statement process on the Fargo–Moorhead Diversion lays bare the multilayered and conflicting interests involved in decision making on Red River flood measures generally, and the Fargo–Moorhead Diversion in particular. It also reveals the inherent limitations of NEPA as an environmental decision tool for projects within complex systems of this character.

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