To get better flood protection from national and international river management agencies, North Dakota may have to rely on something most of us say doesn't exist.
That would be global warming.
We may not have to go as far as agreeing with almost all scientists that we humans are largely responsible for this warming. We could just admit there is a warming trend.
The trend is well-documented, including by a recent study in the Rockies which showed earlier and more rapid melting. This warming pattern affects snow and ice up north as well as in higher elevations.
The earlier and quicker melting means that our old guidelines, such as 100 and 500 year floods, are out of date and are no longer applicable.
And there is another documented factor: increased dust in the air that settles on snow and darkens it, so that it melts more rapidly. A double whammy.
Scientists also say humans contribute to the dust in the air by, among other things, disturbing the lichens and mosses in our deserts that tend to hold the sand in place. This is similar to our 1930s farming practices that led to the dust bowl era.
But, again, we could mention the dusting effect without admitting we humans might have caused it.
The point here is not to get into an argument about what causes global warming but to use empirical data to persuade the U.S. and Canada to change their outdated flood control policies.
This data also indicates that flooding is a secondary concern related to global warming. A larger concern is drought. The earlier runoff not only causes floods in years with heavy snowfall, it often leaves insufficient water for late-season growing. More people are negatively impacted by widespread drought than by flooding in some areas.
Drought, of course, could also affect us. But our main concern now is avoiding a repeat of the 2011 flooding. So let's use these two science-backed factors, warmer temperatures and dustier conditions, to better present our case to the river management powers that be.
Let's get the current policies changed, even if we have to admit there is something to global warming. Now is exactly the wrong time for a strong ideological and anti-scientific stance.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)