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Let farmers loose on flood ditch

The soggy agony of March!

The lone ray of cheer in the last dreary week was when the swans settled on the pond in front of the house.

Ma and Pa swan seem to be getting along. They bob their heads and perform their silly mating rituals on their private dance floor, a circle of slushy ice.

A nerd swan stops by every now and then to horn in. The other two hiss and chase him off, but so far he hasn't gotten the hint. I suspect prom will come and go without him getting a date.

Meanwhile, it is clear from the haggard looks on the faces of people in the grocery store aisle that winter is wearing on the locals.

I came home with my battery charged by the Arizona sunshine, ready to tackle the world and all its problems.

That outlook lasted three hours. Now, I've sombered up and assumed the historically appropriate Minnesota March attitude: Whatever can go wrong will.

Besieged citizens in the flood zones are clearly exhausted by these annual 500-year floods, and you can't blame them. For them, whatever can go wrong has.

Fargo leaders did the right thing and tried to get sand bags prepared ahead of time, but it is difficult to muster volunteers before the television actually shows the water rising. We're good at denying reality until we're knee deep in it.

My house is safely on a hill. I would love to say that I am available to help sand bag the homes of others when the time comes.

However, last year's aborted attempt to sandbag was enough. I still have a funny twinge in my back that acts up every time I see a shovel.

Maybe I can butter bread for sandwiches or something, or hand out hot chocolate, but otherwise all I have to offer is moral support.

Looking at the big picture, something has to be done about this annual mess. I don't know much about the various flood mitigation options, but in general, anything that involves digging a big ditch has my full support.

During childhood, I hacked away at the ice patches with a beet hoe as soon as the water started to trickle off the roof. I still have the itch to ditch.

I think it is a universal male urge. Swans bob their heads. Male humans ditch.

Making use of that itch to ditch, I have developed a proposal that would save 80 percent of the cost of a big diversion project and get it done in half the time.

Does the Army Corps of Engineers have any idea how much farmers love to move dirt? Do they know about the thousands of home-made scrapers built in the shop during the dark winter months by farmers desperate to get out of the house?

In Fertile, a couple of dozen non-golfing farmers got together and built a jewel of a golf course. It got done in a hurry, it got done right -- and the only compensation those farmers got was the sheer joy of moving dirt.

If the Army Corps digs the big ditch themselves, they'll use guys who not only expect to be paid, but who demand lunch breaks every six hours or so. They'll also want overtime and will require constant supervision by bureaucrats with blueprints to make sure it is done right.

Instead, the Corps should just put out the word to the farmers of the Red River Valley: We have dirt to move. We have a ditch to dig. Be there at six a.m. Monday morning.

Not only would hundreds of farmers show up with their massive tractors and home-made scrapers, but they would bring their laser transits and their GPS systems. The ditch would be done perfectly without a single blueprint.

It might be good to have a sandwich cart go from tractor to tractor delivering food on the run. A couple of cold ones at the end of the day would be a nice touch.

But pay? Forget it. The sheer joy of digging the biggest ditch in the Upper Midwest without government help would be compensation enough.