$781 million plan to pipe Missouri River water to Red River Valley gaining momentum, officials say
FARGO — The longstanding goal of diverting Missouri River water to supplement water supplies in the Red River Valley is gaining momentum as a state and local initiative.
Backers of the Red River Water Supply Project will brief legislators in Fargo next week on route possibilities for a pipeline that could be built without significant federal involvement.
“We think we can do this as a state and local partnership,” Dave Koland, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which is spearheading the project, said Wednesday.
The idea of a state and local water project with a price tag of $781 million was first proposed in September 2012, when it became clear federal funding, stalled for four years, was unlikely.
Two routes that top the list of possible pipeline paths would generally follow corridors along Interstate 94 or North Dakota Highway 200.
The latter option is favored by the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, a consortium of local governments including the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks as well as rural water systems.
“I’m happy this is happening,” Bruce Furness, former mayor of Fargo and chairman of the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, said of the increasing state support for taking on the project with local partners.
The group has proposed an option that would pump water from the Missouri River near Washburn, north of Bismarck, and carry it by pipeline along Highway 200, emptying into Lake Ashtabula on the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River.
The North Dakota Legislature’s Water Topics Overview Committee will be briefed Tuesday on the options for augmenting Red River Valley water supplies.
“We’ll lay out some advantages and disadvantages for both corridors,” Koland said.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple has supported the idea of a state and local project to carry Missouri River water to the Red River Valley.
“The state is committed to the project, working with the local governments,” said Andrea Travnicek, Dalrymple’s senior policy adviser for natural resources. “He recognizes the need.”
The North Dakota Legislature has provided $11 million for the current biennium to study the pipeline project and secure right of way.
The State Water Commission will hire an engineering firm to make an independent appraisal of options that do not include federal infrastructure.
Earlier, when federal participation in the water supply project seemed likely, the plan was to use features of the now-defunct Garrison Diversion Project, including the Snake Creek Pumping Station and the McClusky Canal.
The state hopes to have the results of the independent engineering review in hand by June, and officials plan to take a detailed proposal before the Legislature in 2015.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has been working closely with state and local officials on the Red River Water Supply Project.
He has included language in a water development bill before Congress that would make it clear that Missouri River states do not have to pay for water.
That provision is in both the Senate and House versions of water legislation, with a conference committee working to reconcile differences in the bills, Hoeven said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to charge a water storage fee for water taken from reservoirs on the Missouri River, a proposal that is vehemently opposed by North Dakota and South Dakota.
To avoid that possible complication, the proposed water pipeline would draw water from the free-flowing Missouri, not Lake Sakakawea or Lake Oahe.
“It’s certainly my belief that the project will go forward,” Hoeven said of the water pipeline, adding that the decision rests with the North Dakota Legislature.
Any water that is transferred from the Missouri River to the Red River watershed must be treated so fish or other organisms are not transferred to comply with the Boundary Waters Treaty with Canada.
Because of that federal obligation, some have argued that the federal government should pay for any water treatment plant associated with a pipeline.
But Hoeven said any federal assistance would be in the form of a loan that would have to be repaid — and accepting federal assistance would trigger federal requirements that would not apply if the state and local governments build the project.
“We have the fastest-growing state in the nation right now,” Hoeven said, adding that eastern North Dakota is growing rapidly, although the western part of the state gets much of the attention because of the oil boom.
“We need the infrastructure to go with that.”
The state and local governments will be able to exercise much more control over the project without the federal government, Koland said.
“We are in a much better situation when we are taking the future into our own hands than depending on the federal government,” he said.