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Halliday residents voice concerns to SWA board

An increasingly impatient group of Halliday residents had a message Monday for the Southwest Water Authority Board of Directors: we've waited long enough and we'd like some water, thank you very much.

A handful of northern Dunn County residents made the trek to the Elks Lodge in Dickinson for the board's regular monthly meeting to voice their displeasure with the fact that they remain without water service from Southwest, despite promises made long ago.

"Southwest (Water Authority) is something that was meant for southwest North Dakota -- that's the understanding I had," said Lyle Gjermundson. "Some of the people here grew up on the place where they are now and they were some of the first ones to sign up for water. Not just the oil industry, but all the new people moving in are getting water and we still don't have it."

Though the SWA was created by the legislature in 1991, the Southwest Pipeline Project -- a state-run effort to equip southwest North Dakota with "an adequate quantity of quality water" -- has been in the fold since the early 1980s.

Though its goal is to provide everyone in the region with quality water, various roadblocks have prevented some rural residents and ranchers -- many of whom are in Oliver, Mercer and northern Dunn counties -- from receiving services from SWA, despite down payments made long ago.

"Over the years, since the 1980s, I've periodically gone back to my file cabinet," said Kaylen Morast, who, along with her husband, Leland, lives on a ranch in Halliday. "I keep coming back to the word 'rural.' The SWA was created to supply water to the people of southwest North Dakota, including rural domestic water. It's a slap in the face that everywhere we go, we see them digging pipe or putting up another tower and we still don't have water. I don't know what we're doing wrong."

Morast said her family put $450 down as a good faith payment for water service back in the mid-80s. Still without SWA access today, Morast -- like other people in her area -- outsource for their drinking water needs because the well water on their property is full of iron, rust and other deposits.

"We haul all of our water in for drinking or for making coffee and it gets tiring," Morast said. "We usually use our well water for laundry, but, if you're doing whites, you'll end up with a big orange stain. Our hope is that people get it. We were there at the inception of this great idea, but we've been sorely disappointed so many times."

SWA CEO Mary Massad said she empathizes with those in rural areas who have not received water service despite signing up for it years ago. Massad said she hopes residents in Oliver, Mercer and northern Dunn counties get online in the next two years.

"Originally when we built the new plant north of Zap, that was going to be the treatment plant and maybe they would have had water by now," said Massad after the meeting. "We truly understand and the board is very supportive of these issues. It's been a revenue thing and we haven't had the funding to do everything we need to get done. We know it's frustrating for them to see people around (Dickinson) hook up with water and they're still waiting. Somebody has to be first and somebody has to be last."

A consensus Monday between all parties involved was that people are moving into southwestern North Dakota at a rapid rate and homesteads that were being abandoned in recent decades are being reclaimed or sold to new residents in rural areas.

"We were told that we needed to be patient and that the water would go to Dickinson and come back," said Shelly Flaget, whose family now has a fourth generation on its farming operation in Halliday. "That was 30 years ago. I'm a patient person, but I'm running out of patience. It just starts to get to you because you see the apple, you just can't get a bite of it."

Morast said she gets agitated when she's at home and hears the sound of oil field water trucks going to and from the SWA Dodge depot. Massad said, with the level of funding for the SWPP currently in Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed budget, that the rural areas in question could receive water service soon.

"We're in the governor's budget for $79 million," Massad said. "We're pretty positive with the funding the way it is now that we should be able to do the rural for Oliver, Mercer and north Dunn. We're facing tough issues every day. Our communities are growing at unprecedented rates and water is a necessity."

George Nodland of Dickinson referred to Dunn County as a "cash cow" because of its robust oil production when compared to other counties like Stark and Bowman and encouraged the board to "pay attention" to the needs of Dunn County residents. Morast said a number of northern Dunn County residents have entertained the idea of pursuing a class action lawsuit if they do not receive water soon.

"We heard some positive things today,"Morast said. "But we've heard this all before. We need to get serious with this issue."

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.
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