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Lake Sakakawea behind Garrison Dam claims agricultural land as the lake fills with spring runoff from the mountains in Montana in June 2011. Lake Sakakawea is a main source of water for Dickinson, but with increasing needs from all sectors -- city, residential and industrial -- city residents may see rationing instituted as early as next year.

Water use up, officials say rationing possible

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Go ahead and water that lawn, while you can.

With residential, city and industrial uses all requiring their share of the precious resource, the question of Dickinson residents facing a water rationing scenario as early as next year bubbles to the surface.

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Like many other potential positive and negative issues within the ever-changing western North Dakota environment, the short answer to the question is maybe.

While residents probably don't need to worry about storing away drums of drinking water, Dickinsonians could possibly encounter restrictions on things like lawn watering in the next couple of years.

During a Southwest Water Authority Board of Directors meeting May 6, Jim Lennington, a project manager at Bismarck-based engineering firm Barlett & West, which contracts with SWA, said continued growth could put a strain on the city's water supply.

"We may end up at a point where we do have some rationing or maybe even-odd (lawn) watering," Lennington told the board. "The city of Dickinson is projecting -- and we have to remember it's a projection -- rationing water in 2014. If you look closely at their plans, that's based on pumps in the treatment plant. Some of that can be avoided by fully utilizing pumps in that plant."

During the city's comprehensive planning process this year, Dickinson leaders revealed that they could see water shortages as early as next summer.

Along with an increasing populace and commercial and industrial infrastructure -- Dickinson is one of the fastest-growing micropolitan areas in the nation -- the greater Dickinson area also will be home to the new Dakota Prairie Refinery, a diesel topping facility, and the city could enter into a future agreement with neighboring South Heart to treat its wastewater, both of which are scenarios that will put added strain on water supply and treatment capabilities.

The refining facility -- which will need a lot of water to operate -- is expected to open in late 2015. It broke ground in March.

In a letter sent last month to SWA President Mary Massad from Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson and City Administrator Shawn Kessel, the city indicated it is anticipating ceasing treated water sales for industrial (including oil industry) purposes "sometime" in 2014.

"This is a complicated issue," Kessel said. "The city relies upon (SWA) to provide and treat our municipal water. The city owns the treatment facility, but SWA operates it. Current predictions require many upgrades to the SWA system to provide enough water for future population gains and they are actively designing those improvements."

With plenty of new or serviced water-related infrastructure -- including water pumps, a projected $6 million water pump station, water mains and additional pipelines -- needing to be implemented in the coming months and years in the Dickinson area, the city and SWA will need to work together to see that everything is done correctly and in a timely manner, Lennington said.

A memorandum of understanding has been drafted, but was not yet signed as of last week, that would delegate the cost of the $6 million "joint finished water pumping facility," which would sit on the site of the existing Dickinson Water Treatment Plant.

"We're planning to have a preliminary design report out this month," Lennington said. "Then we're going to basically stop work because there's going to be numerous questions and issues for the city. They'll have to provide some answers. So far, they can't tell us the size of the pumps, the flows or the pressures. They're still working on their side of things and they need some time."

Kessel said depending on the design and construction infrastructure improvements and projected population growth, Dickinson could "be faced with some limits on water use, such as lawn watering, within the next few years."

Massad, however, said Saturday that she doesn't believe Dickinson residents will need to worry about water rationing in the near future.

In a landmark move, the 63rd North Dakota Legislative Assembly, which adjourned May 4, appropriated $515 million for flood control and water supply projects, including the earmarking of $79 million for the Southwest Water Pipeline Project -- which is managed by SWA -- and other water projects in western North Dakota.

During a visit to Dickinson last week, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, R-N.D., said the western part of the state made out very well when it comes to water project funding, including funds for the construction of transmission lines in Dunn, Oliver and Mercer counties, where some have been waiting for SWA service for more than two decades.

"It's amazing," Dalrymple said. "The water supply situation did extremely well (in the legislative session). (SWA) got a ton of money and that includes a big chunk of money for the water treatment plant in Dickinson and for other projects north of Dickinson. We're going to get a big supply of water over to the Killdeer area now."

With water issues and disputes projected to increase in coming years because of a number of different factors, Dalrymple said what the Legislature did in the way of funding, redirecting the State Water Commission and its subsidiaries around North Dakota was important.

"We found a way to prioritize the residential domestic water user," Dalrymple said. "We're still going to sell to industrial interests -- we're going to be an important water supplier to them -- but as we manage the overall system now, it will be managed more and more for the domestic user, which it should be."

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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