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Gov. Dalrymple meets with Fargo, Grand Forks leaders to discuss RRV water supply strategy

BISMARCK — With hope for federal support all but dried up, supporters of the Red River Valley Water Supply Project met with Gov. Jack Dalrymple here Wednesday to talk about ways to advance the project through state and local efforts.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown were among those who met privately with Dalrymple to discuss the future of the project, which would divert Missouri River water to eastern North Dakota in times of extended drought.

The preferred alternative would use the McClusky Canal and a 123-mile buried pipeline to carry the water to Lake Ashtabula, a reservoir held back by Baldhill Dam on the Sheyenne River north of Valley City. The water would then continue down the Sheyenne River and flow into the Red River.

That option, estimated to cost $660 million, received a positive environmental review in 2007. But the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation has failed to issue a decision of record, which would clear the way for Congress to authorize and fund the project.

Without federal support, the project can’t use federal facilities, including the McClusky Canal and the Snake Creek Pumping Plant near Coleharbor. Both were part of the original Garrison Diversion project, said Dave Koland, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which represents the state in the project.

“We don’t see any prospect that there’ll be a federal decision,” he said.

So, officials “are proceeding with the pipeline to be built as a state and local project,” Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Attention now has turned to a backup alternative that would cost an estimated $781 million and draw water from farther south on the Missouri River. One option would put the inlet south of Washburn, Koland said.

Project officials also are mulling whether the pipeline should empty directly into Lake Ashtabula or one of the Sheyenne River’s tributaries, which would shorten the pipeline and save an estimated $30 million.

The state Legislature approved $11 million last session to keep the water supply project going. Zent said the State Water Commission will now conduct its own analysis of the project options to confirm which one is the best, “and then they’ll move forward from there.”

Walaker said he hopes the study happens as quickly as possible.

“We’ve been working on the project a long time, and we think it’s been studied,” he said. “But if (the governor) wants the State Water Commission to do this, we can’t object to that.”

Koland said officials haven’t yet reached the point of discussing how the state and local governments will share the cost.

“I think we’re confident we can move ahead in a state and local partnership,” he said.

If approved, the project will take an estimated six years to complete, he said.

Also participating in Wednesday’s meeting were Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral, Garrison Diversion chairman Ken Vein, Lake Agassiz Water Authority chairman Bruce Furness, Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services CEO Steve Burian and two of Dalrymple’s policy advisers. 

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.