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Study confirms route for RRV Water Supply Project

BISMARCK — An engineering study of potential routes for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project confirms that the northern route endorsed by project backers provides the best chance for completing the pipeline, but at a cost $118 million higher than the previous estimate.

Next up for the project: another study.

The State Water Commission on Thursday received the engineering analysis and then voted to spend $2.5 million to study intake options for drawing water from the Missouri River so it can be piped to eastern North Dakota.

“We have taken a step forward here which is very important,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the commission.

Dalrymple had requested the engineering study to help the state select the best option now that federal funding and infrastructure isn’t available for the project.

Engineering firm CH2M Hill conducted the independent study, evaluating 25 alternatives during five workshops with input from water commission staff and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, the project’s local sponsor.

The option receiving the highest score was the same route endorsed by the Lake Agassiz Water Authority board earlier this month. It would draw water from the Missouri River near Washburn and generally follow N.D. Highway 200 to Baldhill Creek, which flows into Lake Ashtabula, a reservoir held back by Baldhill Dam on the Sheyenne River north of Valley City. The Sheyenne empties into the Red River near Fargo, which has the largest interest in the water supply project.

The route carries a construction price tag of $918 million — $695 million for the pipeline, $100 million for the intake and a $123 million water treatment plant to filter biota out of the Missouri River water. That doesn’t include annual operation and maintenance costs estimated at $3 million during a normal year to $15 million during a severe drought year.

Options that involved a riverbank filtration system scored higher in the study than those with conventional intakes, which would draw directly from the river and likely face a tougher road in obtaining federal permits. Because of work that’s already been completed, the northern routes also scored higher than the southern routes that would start near Bismarck and generally follow Interstate 94.

Dalrymple said he favors the bank filtration intake system because Canadian officials who have concerns about the transfer of Missouri River water to the north-flowing Red River that runs through Manitoba have told him a raw water intake is “a non-starter.”

The $2.5 million study will identify potential locations for such an intake and what level of additional biota filtration may be needed. The commission agreed to pay the entire cost of the study, as Dalrymple said the information could be valuable for other projects, as well.

Lake Agassiz Water Authority Chairman Bruce Furness said he’ll have to see how the board wants to handle the higher local share.

Project proponents were hoping the engineering study would allow them to present a detailed proposal to the 2015 North Dakota Legislature, and Furness said that’s still possible. Lawmakers approved $11 million last session to keep the project going.

Finding out what the Legislature is willing to contribute will help determine the cost share, which Furness noted was originally split three ways at $200 million each from local, state and federal sources. Now, with a higher price tag and no federal support, the Lake Agassiz Water Authority — cities and water districts in 13 North Dakota counties and three cities in Minnesota — would have to go back to its members for approval of a larger local share if necessary, he said.

Reach Mike Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki      

Mike Nowatzki

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