Red River alliance - climate mitigation project

9 August 2022

A landmark climate change mitigation project that intends to address major flooding across the US states of North Dakota and Minnesota, should be completed by 2027. Development of the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion was prompted by historic flooding of the Red River in 1997, which caused an estimated US$3.5 billion in damages. Once completed, the scheme will protect more than 235,000 people from flooding.

The US state of North Dakota has the country’s second highest inland flood risk behind Louisiana, with 235,000 people and their homes, businesses and property at risk of catastrophic flooding.

Fargo in North Dakota and Moorhead in Minnesota are on the west and east banks respectively of the Red River of the North, approximately 240km south of the Canada-US border. Described as a major health, education, cultural and commercial centre, the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area is also prone to flooding with average annual flood damages estimated at approximately US$238 million. 

Out of 55 of the past 118 years (from 1902 to 2019), the Red River of the North has exceeded the National Weather Service flood stage of 5.4m: seven of the top ten floods have occurred in the last 30 years. A 500-year event would flood nearly the entire city of Fargo, a large portion of the city of Moorhead and several smaller communities in the area. Flooding occurs not only from the rivers but also from large rainfall events that overwhelm storm drainage systems. 

It was the 1997 flood event, which set a record at the time when it crested at 12.1m and caused US$3.5 billion of damages, that prompted planning for the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion project. Plans are now in place and the project is moving forward. Construction started in 2017 and by 2027 the region is on track to have permanent, reliable flood protection provided by more than 180km2 of infrastructure.


The Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion project is a Congressionally authorised federal project that is using a split-delivery method where two simultaneous construction schedules can be completed faster and for less expense.

A Project Partnership Agreement between the government (the US Army Corps of Engineers) and non-federal partners – the Metro Flood Diversion Authority (MFDA) and the City of Fargo and the City of Moorhead – serves as the official agreement for construction.

MFDA is the governing authority managing the project which is described as being the first public-private partnership floodwater diversion project in North America. The US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the design and construction of the southern embankment and its associated infrastructure which will be carried out in phases. While the Red River Valley Alliance (RRVA) is a consortium of developers charged with developing, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the project. RRVA is responsible for the construction of the diversion channel and associated infrastructure. Lead members include ACCIONA, Shikun & Binui USA and the North American Construction Group. 

This monumental climate-mitigation infrastructure project includes a 48km diversion channel to divert floodwaters of the Red River away from the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro area and protect it from recurrent floods. Last year, the Red River Valley Alliance named COWI North America, along with Hatch, as the design leads for the channel portion of the diversion and will be responsible for all the major design aspects. In addition to the 48km channel, the project involves:

  • A diversion outlet.
  • A berm spanning the length of the channel.
  • Two pairs of interstate bridges.
  • Nine county road bridges.
  • Three local road bridges.
  • Three rail bridges.
  • Two aqueducts.
  • Twelve drain inlets.
  • Two river flow directing structures.
  • An administration complex. 

Environmental impact mitigation, access and security features are also included. 

“COWI is very excited to be a part of this ground-breaking comprehensive flood protection project,” says Thomas Dahlgren, President of COWI North America. “It is the first of its kind undertaken by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This initiative will strengthen communities, establish a path forward for future public-private partnership projects, and provide a platform for growth and opportunities to come.” 

John Chapman, Vice President and Market Director leading the pursuit for COWI North America, added: “The passing of President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which includes US$47 billion to help communities prepare for the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, is a much-needed acknowledgement of the importance of resilience projects like the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion. The project will allow the consortium to bring global experience in designing and building climate resilient infrastructure to a landmark US project that aims to prevent billions of dollars in losses caused by flooding.” 

Control structure

In March 2022 the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a US$115 million contract to Ames Construction of Minnesota, to construct the Red River control structure portion of project. This is the fifth construction contract to be awarded by the federal government for the scheme. It includes construction of a concrete control structure with three gates that will regulate Red River flows into the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, located approximately 11km south of Fargo-Moorhead on the Red River of the North. This shovel-ready feature is one of the first and largest contracts to be awarded by the Corps of Engineers using funds received under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2022.

“The Red River structure is the third and largest gated structure needed for the completion of the Southern Embankment,” said Col. Karl Jansen, St. Paul District commander of the Army Corps. “Awarding this contract is the culmination of a multi-year, highly sophisticated design effort involving the most experienced engineers from across the entire US Army Corps of Engineers. With this contract, we are on-track to do our part in delivering comprehensive flood risk management for the great people of the Fargo-Moorhead region.”

International recognition

Earlier in 2022 the diversion project also received international recognition. Project finance and infrastructure journal, IJ Global, recognised it as the Water Deal of the Year and the Public Sector of the Year in North America. 

While Proximo Infra, a London-based organisation working in energy and infrastructure financing, also named the FM Area Diversion as its North America Water Deal of the Year. They called the project “a huge multi-sourced P3 [public-private partnership] for a flood resilience asset.”

These add to the recognition the project has already received. Project Finance International named the project the Americas P3 Deal of the Year. Additionally, the US Corps of Engineers and one of its contractors, Ames Construction, received the Dan W. Renfro Partnering Award from the Mississippi Valley Associated General Contractors for their work on the diversion.

“These achievements were absolutely a team effort. Many people put in a lot of time and effort to assemble a public-private partnership that can provide the Fargo-Moorhead area with flood protection faster and for less expense than traditional construction methods,” said Joel Paulsen, Metro Flood Diversion Authority Executive Director. “It’s gratifying to see this work recognised across the world.”

“We are honoured and humbled to be recognised for these awards,” said Esther Madrigal Diez, Red River Valley Alliance Project Manager. “We take great pride in being selected to deliver this historic project. This award represents our dedication to the community, sustainability, and innovation.”

Diversion The Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion
Award Martin Nicholson (centre), Deputy Executive Director for the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, accepts the IJ Global award recognising the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion project as the 2022 Public Sector of the Year for North America.
Trunnion hub Joe Pihlaja (left), with Ames Construction, inspects a trunnion hub on one of the large gates that will control floodwater flow through the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion. (Photo from Metro Flood Diversion Authority)
Tainter gate A team inspects and checks the dimensions of a tainter gate being manufactured for the diversion scheme. (Photo from Metro Flood Diversion Authority).
Inlet structure The Wild Rice inlet structure under construction at the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project. The Wild Rice, Sheyenne, Maple and Rush rivers in North Dakota and the Buffalo River in Minnesota also cross the project area. (Photo by US Army Corps of Engineers).
Diversion inlet Construction of the Fargo-Moorhead Metro flood risk management diversion inlet. (Photo by US Army Corps of Engineers).

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