Water plan decision still pending

Post Date: Mar 18 2008

The city of Fargo and other local governments in the Red River Valley were hoping to have official word from the federal government declaring a canal carrying Missouri River water the best way to meet the valley's future water needs.

A 90-day timetable for an official decision will end March 27, but North Dakota water officials have been told the nod probably won't come until early April.

That was the news delivered Tuesday to the board of the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, comprised of public water users in 13 eastern North Dakota counties, meeting in Fargo.

All indications from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency working to ensure the valley's future water supply, are favorable, said Dave Koland, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District.

There was no roadblock or obstacle, he said. Bureau staff and the state of North Dakota have lined up in support of the so-called preferred option, with a price tag of $660 million.

That proposal would use features of the old Garrison Diversion project, including a mammoth pumping station and irrigation canal, along with a constructed pipeline, to divert Missouri River water to Lake Ashtabula along the Sheyenne River north of Valley City, N.D., and ultimately the Red River.

However, high-level diplomatic contacts between the U.S. State Department and the Canadian government continue.

The Canadians are opposed to any project that would transfer aquatic species from the Missouri River Basin to the Red River Basin, which flows into Hudson Bay.

To try to satisfy those concerns, any diversion of Missouri River water to the Red River would include a treatment and filtration plant, at a cost of $120 million, to prevent the transfer of microorganisms.

Also Tuesday, the board received a new cost-sharing agreement, with the federal, state and local governments each contributing one-third, or $220 million, to complete the project.

Mike Dwyer, executive director of the North Dakota Water Users Association, told the LAWA board that he has briefed Gov. John Hoeven on the proposal. The governor has not yet indicated whether he would support the plan, and the North Dakota Legislature so far has authorized up to $100 million in state funding.

If federal officials give their approval to the preferred option, Congress must authorize the diversion of Missouri River water and governments and water users must figure out how to pay for it.

LAWA hopes to have a solution in place by 2013.