Water project decision delayed

Post Date: Sep 10 2008

The federal government's seal of approval for a proposed $660 million project to augment the Red River Valley's water supply remains bottled up, apparently by budget officials in the Bush administration.
Representatives of the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, comprised of municipalities and water systems in the valley, have been on hold pending approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The delay in approval a decision, after being postponed, was due Sept. 1  was discussed Tuesday by the water authority's board. If approved and built, more than a third of the water would go to Fargo.
I think the hold up is OMB, said Pam Gulleson, director of North Dakota field staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., referring to the Office of Management and Budget within the Bush administration. We anticipate some of that is the cost of the project. They've been reluctant to move forward. Another longstanding problem: opposition from Canada and others to transferring water and possibly organisms from the Missouri River basin to the Red River, which drains into Lake Winnipeg. To alleviate that concern, the water supply project would include a filtration and treatment plant part of the federal government's anticipated $220 million cost share.
The Interior Department's decision was delayed to allow the State Department more time to ensure that the project would not violate the Boundary Waters Treaty. The environmental impact study for the project determined it complies.
We have the governor making contacts with the administration, said Dave Koland, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which is administering the project.
The issue is one, if you will, one of those situations where they're trying to figure out who will be the happiest and who will be the unhappiest, he said.
Lance Gaebe, Gov. John Hoeven's deputy chief of staff, said in an interview that the governor has pressed the project's importance with administration officials, including Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne during a visit to the state in August.
The governor's been nudging it forward, he said, adding there still is no word, however, on when approval might come. The project would divert water from the Missouri River's Lake Sakakawea to the Sheyenne River's Lake Ashtabula using the McClusky Canal, originally designed for irrigation projects, and pipeline.
To underscore its concern, board members voted unanimously to write interior officials and others urging them to speed up action. Preliminary design work and other steps can't be taken until the interior secretary issues what's called an officials record of decision.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522