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OUR OPINION: ‘Drought insurance’ for the valley

One of the more important meetings in the history of the Red River Valley took place earlier this week.

And if you doubt that, just look at the news out of California. Then recall that the interim legislative committee meeting, which advanced the Red River Water Supply Project, could help the valley ease the local consequences of crippling — and inevitable — drought.

“With California in the throes of the worst drought in modern history, Gov. Jerry Brown is calling on residents to do their part, telling people to not flush their toilets more than they have to and not to shower longer than they need,” CBS News reported Wednesday.

Added Bloomberg News, “At the end of January, officials cut to zero (pdf) the amount of water that local authorities could draw from the series of reservoirs that supply 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. …

“Without deliveries from the state reservoirs, cities are asking residents and businesses to conserve water, Bloomberg News reports. People are prohibited from washing cars, filling swimming pools and watering lawns during the daytime, and farmers are letting thousands of acres lie fallow. All that, and it’s not even summer.”

The Red River Water Supply Project could help the valley avoid those kinds of stories the next time dried-out riverbeds crack under pressure from a drought.

The project will transport and treat Missouri River water for use by drought-stricken valley cities, rural water systems and industries. As mentioned, such a drought is inevitable. It has happened before and will happen again.

By rights, that’s reason why the U.S. government should help pay for the project, because other states as well as Canada are sure to be affected by it. But the fiscal realities in Washington would keep this project low on the priority list.

That’s why North Dakota’s right to “go it alone” and pursue this as a state and local partnership.

In addition, valley communities are adding housing, manufacturing plants, schools and other developments not as fast as is happening in the Oil Patch, but faster than almost everywhere else in America.

As North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven put it when helping to strategize for the project, “we have the fastest-growing state in the nation right now. We need the infrastructure to go with that.” He’s right, and North Dakotans across the state should give the project their support.