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Sando set to depart State Water Commission

BISMARCK -- Retirement is just around the corner for State Engineer Todd Sando, and he says he'll now have more time to take in his love of the outdoors and the Missouri River.

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Todd Sando will soon be retiring from the North Dakota Water Commission after 31 years including being state engineer since 2010. (TOM STROMME/Tribune)

BISMARCK -- Retirement is just around the corner for State Engineer Todd Sando, and he says he’ll now have more time to take in his love of the outdoors and the Missouri River.

Sando, 54, is retiring at the end of the month from the North Dakota State Water Commission after a 31-year career in state government.

“This river is the jewel of the state,” Sando said of the Missouri, adding that now he’ll be able to enjoy it without looking at it like an engineer.

Sando, a Bismarck native, graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in civil engineering. He said his interest in water came from his father, also an engineer.

“I’ve been around engineers all the time. It was always at the dinner table growing up,” Sando said.

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He said his interest in public service came at an early age, once testifying while still in junior high before a legislative committee.

Sando interned for a couple of summers with the State Water Commission during college. After graduation, he wanted to stay in North Dakota and weighed what area of engineering to enter.

“I was looking at both civil and geological engineering,” Sando said. “A lot of kids weren’t getting jobs so I figured water resources was a good career.”

His career began in 1985 when he was hired as a water resource engineer. Sando did a substantial amount of work on flood studies.

One of the most memorable events, he said, was heading to Grand Forks for the 1997 flood.

“Flew up there in the middle of the night to provide assistance. It was kind of eerie; the water was just roaring,” Sando said.

Sando said the decision to build a dike along one of the city’s streets was a tough call to make but worked in the end by helping protect a portion of the city from worse flooding.

David Sprynczynatyk, who spent 28 years with the State Water Commission and 11 years as state engineer, said Sando had a positive, can-do attitude and had the drive to get projects done.

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Sprynczynatyk said their time during the Grand Forks flood was something he’ll never forget.

“Todd did a tremendous job helping protect the city .… He helped with the tough decisions,” Sprynczynatyk said.

Another ongoing issue has been dealing Devils Lake: It has taken years to get outlets built on each end to stem the swallowing up of thousands of acres of land in the area.

“It really has been making a difference,” Sando said of the outlets.

Sando was appointed state engineer in July 2010. During his tenure, the job has been marked by two things: flooding and the state’s oil boom.

The record flooding in Minot in 2011 as well as major flooding in Bismarck and other communities highlighted a recent wet cycle, according to Sando, who said enormous demands have been placed on the department due to the record oil production in recent years. In addition, the need for local and regional water projects has soared, as has the money into the Resources Trust Fund, which has been used for a number of major projects across the state.

“The only way the oil boom happened was due to water. It was just a historic time period,” Sando said.

More than 1,000 temporary permits were issued in recent years for the use of water for industrial use and more than 250 water depots.

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Sando said he’ll stay engaged locally after retirement, possibly as a consultant or by helping manage some property he and his wife own.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who chairs the State Water Commission, commended Sando when he announced his retirement on his years of service to the state.

“You’ve done a superb job,” Dalrymple said in March.

Sprynczynatyk agreed, adding he hopes Sando enjoys his retirement as much as he is.

“I’m hoping that Todd will want to call me someday to go fishing,” Sprynczynatyk said.

Incoming commissioner comes from South Dakota

BISMARCK -- New State Water Commissioner Garland Erbele comes in with a wealth of experience in water and natural resources in South Dakota, which he says should make for a smooth transition.

“It was very attractive, the opportunity to come back to North Dakota,” Erbele said.

Erbele, 62, was born in Lehr and earned his bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from North Dakota State University.

In 1978, Erbele joined the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He was a natural resources engineer for the department for about 21 years. In 2000, Erbele was named the agency’s chief engineer for its Water Rights Program.

In 2013, Erbele joined engineering and consulting company Wenck Associates Inc. as a senior water resources engineer, based out of the company’s office in Pierre, S.D.

Erbele said infrastructure, water management and the budget for the next biennium are among the numerous challenges he faces as he steps into the state’s top water position.

Erbele was unanimously chosen by the State Water Commission in April to become the state’s 18th state engineer. Erbele started in his new role June 1, transitioning to full control of the office at the end of the month.

Dalrymple, who chairs the State Water Commission, praised Erbele in a release when his hire was announced.

“Garland Erbele’s proven leadership and technical expertise involving the management of major water resources will be a tremendous asset to the State Water Commission and to the state as a whole,” Dalrymple said.

Sando agreed with Dalrymple.

“I’ve worked with him over the years on Missouri River issues,” Sando said. “He’s got the experience to lead the state in water management and water development. I think it’s in good hands.”

Erbele said construction and oversight of various local and regional water projects across the state will be important.

“The Fargo flood diversion’s obviously a big issue, and what is going on in the Bakken,” said Erbele, adding that his arrival as the state’s oil activity has slowed down has positives and negatives.

“It was such a hectic time. With things slowing down, there’s time to slow down and take a deep breath,” Erbele said.

The budget will be front and center in the coming months and into next legislative session.

State agencies that receive funding from general fund dollars were directed by Dalrymple to craft their 2017-19 budget proposals at 90 percent of ongoing spending levels from the current biennium. While the State Water Commission doesn’t receive general fund dollars, dollars will be tight for the next budget cycle.

“We’re still going to have a fair pot of money,” Erbele said.

The 2015-17 budget for the State Water Commission as approved by lawmakers was for $1.12 billion and 97 staff.

“I don’t have any big agenda items right now,” Erbele said, adding that one of his priorities early on is to get out and meet as many people as possible. “I’m really looking forward to serving the people of North Dakota.”

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