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“Study limitations and omissions of scope render these annualized values inappropriate for policy or financial use.” This was the cautionary note from the Sept. 28 presentation of the Initial Assessment of the Agricultural Risk of Temporary Water Storage for the FM Diversion.

That is how North Dakota State University researchers qualified the results of their study. The Diversion Authority hired members of the Agriculture Business Department to give them an estimate of crop damage caused by holding water on farmland upstream of the dam. The estimated amount of damage per acre averaged over all years, whether or not the land was flooded, was predicted to range from 30 cents to $1.20 per year. The Diversion Authority characterizes the results showing “harm to upstream farmers from the diversion dam would be limited and far less consequential than has been sold by opponents.”

Those who have followed the study process will remember that agricultural impact results were presented once before. Upstream observers were refused copies of the first study. An open records complaint was filed with the North Dakota attorney general’s office, and he ruled that the Diversion Authority had violated state law. The latest study results were a revision of the original work.

The study was based on inflated flood levels the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has used to justify the project. That means researchers assumed much of the land that would be inundated by the dam would already be inundated by river levels never before seen. The study also assumes culverts and drains would be ice- and snow-free during the water storage process.

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The farmers will be the ones stuck with the damage and the courts will determine how much is ultimately paid. In the unlikely event the diversion is ever built, the study’s cautionary note may be the most accurate statement.

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