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Other Views: Pursue water line to Red River Valley

Somewhere, where the water runs clean and cold and there is no drought, former North Dakota Gov. Bill Guy is smiling. A serious discussion of a water delivery system he championed in the last years of his life is underway. The aim of a diverse assembly of state and local officials is to build a pipeline from the Missouri River to the Red River Valley to augment the Red River in times of drought.

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It was Guy who emerged as the primary advocate of a pipeline option over digging new canals and using existing canals. At the time, just a few years ago, water managers and others dismissed Guy’s concept as too expensive or unworkable. He did not abandon the idea, even as he never expected to convince naysayers.

Now, the favored plan that has emerged from planners is a buried pipeline (two routes are under consideration) that would include a treatment plant at the intake. Cost estimates are from $800 million to $1.1 billion.

Probably the most appealing factor of the proposed project is that the cost would be paid by a combination of state appropriations and user fees. The details of a funding mechanism have yet to be worked out, but key legislators indicate they would support initial appropriations in order to keep the project moving.

Meanwhile, agencies involved in the plan, including the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, are working cooperatively to advance the project. For example, results of engineering studies of the options should be done by early summer.

As Bill Guy knew, and active water managers and political figures know today, delivering water to the valley is about the long-term water security of eastern North Dakota. The project would be a visionary investment that over time would pay for itself many times over. The initial cost might be sticker shock, but returns would be realized for the next century.

Legislators should appropriate enough money in the 2015 session to keep the project on track. Regional advocates should develop a payback strategy that local water users can afford.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.