Water backup plan for RRV could progress without fedsFARGO — Moving Missouri River water to the Red River Valley to protect against extended droughts might have to happen without federal support.
By: Patrick Springer, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Moving Missouri River water to the Red River Valley to protect against extended droughts might have to happen without federal support.
Officials with the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, a consortium of Red River cities and rural water systems, are sketching out plans for a project that could be paid for solely by state government and local water users — a step coming after five years of waiting in vain for federal approval for an already studied $660 million water-supply project, let alone the one-third federal share of its cost.
Dave Koland, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which manages the Red River water supply initiative, said he will present a proposal today that could be built without federal support.
A federal environmental impact statement estimated the costs associated with a prolonged drought similar to the 1930s at $2 billion per year. To meet water demand, officials have calculated that 1,200 truckloads of water per day would be needed.
“Doing nothing and waiting is not an acceptable solution,” Koland said, echoing the water authority board’s position. “They have made it clear that we have to move ahead.”
Plans for the $660 million project call for using existing features of the now-defunct Garrison Diversion Project, a pumping station and a canal, as well as building a pipeline. The system would deliver Missouri River water to the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red River, which is Fargo’s main water source.
It was given a green light in an environmental review five years ago, but the project has been stalled in recent years because neither the Bush nor Obama White House would grant final administrative approval to move ahead.
A spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Monday that the state still is operating under the presumption that the federal government will provide its share of funding.
“We still feel that the federal government should be a partner in the project,” said Jeff Zent, Dalrymple’s press aide. “Until we get a clear message that that’s not going to happen, we’ll move forward with that understanding that they’ll participate in the cost share.”
It would be better to have federal financial support through the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the Snake Creek Pumping Station and McClusky Canal, which were built for the Garrison Diversion Project, Koland said. But, he added, “It’s clear that’s not possible right now.”
Bruce Furness, former mayor of Fargo and chairman of the water authority, agrees that the Red River Valley communities must make plans for a project without federal help.
“The federal government, it seems, is not going to give us a record of decision,” Furness said, referring to the final administrative seal of approval for the project, which had been planned as a partnership between federal, state and local governments.
In particular, state and local officials have said, a water treatment plant for the project to prevent spread of biological organisms from the Missouri River to the Red River is a federal responsibility, as it would be needed to satisfy a treaty with Canada.
In spite of that obligation, Furness said, “I don’t think we’re going to get any federal help at all.”
Because Fargo-Moorhead already is pushing for federal support to build a $1.8 billion flood-control diversion channel, federal officials seem unlikely to help with a second major project given the federal budget crisis, Furness said.
With those fiscal realities, Koland said, “The state and the users are going to have to bear the brunt of the funding.”
Koland said he plans to present a recommendation that would use a pipeline to deliver Missouri River water to the Red River.
The proposal, he said, bears in mind the necessity of delivering water at a cost that is affordable for municipalities and rural water systems.
“It’s our feeling that this is doable with a 50-50 cost share with the state,” Koland said.
Two possible pipeline corridors could be considered, one following Interstate 94, the other following North Dakota Highway 200, a route already planned as the path. Right-of-way options already have been secured for three-fourths of that route, Koland said.
So far, he added, the costs of either route appear roughly the same.
Both Koland and Furness agree that two big public works needs in North Dakota likely rank higher than Red River supplemental water supply: infrastructure for the booming Oil Patch and flood protection for Minot and Fargo.
Still, they said, the state has long recognized the importance of ensuring adequate water supply for Fargo, Grand Forks and other cities that depend on the Red River.
Furness said he would like to investigate Koland’s proposal, given the lack of federal support.
“Let’s investigate this a bit further,” he said, “see what the ramifications are.”
Patrick Springer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.