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Water project to provide high-quality water to NW ND

CROSBY -- A $110 million pipeline project will bring high-quality drinking water to areas of northwest North Dakota that desperately need it, officials said Tuesday.

Some independent water providers say this state-backed project will compete with private sales of water to the oil industry, but supporters of the project say there's enough business to go around.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple attended a groundbreaking ceremony near Crosby on Tuesday to celebrate the construction of a Western Area Water Supply Project pipeline between Crosby and Wildrose. It was about a year ago that Dalrymple signed a bill creating the Western Area Water Supply Authority, which is made up of several western North Dakota water districts.

The passing of the bill paved the way for the Bank of North Dakota to issue $110 million in loans to get the project started. The project will bring high-quality, treated drinking water from the Missouri River to residents of Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties, where water quality is poor and in short supply.

Crosby Mayor Les Bakken said the water in his city is drinkable, but it's yellow and doesn't always taste great. Crosby hasn't signed a contract with the water supply authority, but officials are working on some of the details, Bakken said.

Other communities, such as Ray, have experienced water shortages, said Jaret Wirtz, executive director for the Western Area Water Supply Authority.

As communities in the Oil Patch see significant population growth, they can't keep up with demands for water.

"These communities cannot grow anymore without that water," Wirtz said.

The project is projected to serve as many as 75,000 people over the next 20 years. It will be primarily completed at the end of 2014.

The loans that launched the project will be repaid by selling extra water to oil companies for hydraulic fracturing.

Mike Ames, a member of the Independent Water Providers group, said there's a need for a project to supply water to northwest North Dakota, but the way it's being financed will unfairly compete with private business.

"Our concern is: Who's going to lose water sales? Who's going to lose out because now we have to compete with this regional water supply system?" said Ames of Williston.

Dalrymple said there were compromises made in the bill to minimize effects to the independent providers, including consolidating where water depots would be located to avoid direct competition.

Ames questions whether oil companies will want to pay for water through WAWSP. Because it's being treated, the group is going to charge 84 cents a barrel, while the independent providers charge on average 60 cents a barrel for frack water, Ames said.

Wirtz said the price isn't as important to oil companies as location and the ability to get access to the water quickly.

As communities in northwest North Dakota grow, the amount of water WAWSP will have left over to sell to the oil industry will decrease, Wirtz said.

Dalrymple said he expects that some independent providers will continue to oppose the project.

"The demand for water is so strong that frankly, we need it all," Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.