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ND officials: Optimism builds over $1 billion water pipeline to serve Red River Valley, central ND

McClusky Canal Photo courtesy of Garrison Diversion Conservancy District

FARGO—The push to deliver water from the Missouri River to the Red River Valley is gaining momentum and officials are optimistic that construction on the $1 billion project will start in 2019.

So far, 35 community and rural water systems in central and eastern North Dakota have committed to the project, which aims to pipe water from the Missouri to the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red River.

The project is the subject of a conference in Fargo Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the Holiday Inn from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The 165-mile pipeline will be used to augment water municipal supplies during droughts in cities including Fargo and Grand Forks, but also would enable industrial water users to tap into the project, which is being administered by the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District.

Officials are negotiating with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for agreements that would enable the pipeline project to use water pumped from Lake Audubon on the Missouri and to use a portion of the McClusky Canal.

The Snake Creek Pumping Station and McClusky Canal are features of the defunct Garrison Diversion Project, a massive federal irrigation project that stalled and was taken over by the state of North Dakota, evolving to become the Red River Water Supply Project.

Another option for getting water out of the Missouri would be to build an intake near Washburn, north of Bismarck, at a cost of $171 million. That option also would have higher operating costs, estimated at $4.3 million per year, because it would have to pump water uphill.

Following a recent meeting in Washington with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, officials are optimistic an agreement will be reached to use the old Garrison features to deliver Missouri River water to the pipeline.

"This was a very good meeting," Ken Vein of Grand Forks, a member of the water project's board, said, echoing Zinke's concluding remarks as the meeting ended. A letter from the federal government approving the arrangement is expected within a month, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said.

If the federal approval comes, as expected, a major hurdle will be completed toward completion of the project, which also could serve communities including the Jamestown area.

"I'm very confident it will happen," Vein said.

The 35 community and rural water systems that are committed to the project are seeking up to 159 cubic feet per second of water, which would require a pipe 72 inches in diameter. That's more than the 122 cubic feet per second originally envisioned for the project.

State support for the pipeline—capable of delivering water to half of North Dakota's population—is so great that funding for the 2017-19 budget was increased from $15 million to $30 million to enable construction to start by 2019.

North Dakota officials are eager to start construction during the Trump administration, whose environmental and natural resource policies are supportive of projects like the water supply pipeline.

"We want to have a substantial start now while we're dealing with the current administration," Vein said.

Officials fear that a delay could mean adverse policy decisions from a future administration, including a broader definition of wetland, which could make it much more difficult to get an approved pipeline route. Under current wetland conditions, the route can be permitted, officials said.

For much of its route, the pipeline would follow the North Dakota Highway 200 corridor. Officials estimate it will cost $6.36 million in the current budget cycle to acquire easements and exercise options for existing easements that otherwise will expire.

Another $6.35 million is needed to complete the final design of a "strategic section" of pipeline to be construction "shovel ready." Completion of final design of the project's intake and discharge structures will cost $4.3 million.

That leaves $13 million available to start construction, which would ensure that the pipeline project would fall under current regulations and permitting requirements.

Because the water supply project is now a state initiative, the permit to use Missouri River water will come from the state of North Dakota, not the federal government, which had authorized the Garrison Diversion Project.

The river water will be filtered and treated, mostly for sedimentation and chlorination, but will be de-chlorinated before the water is released into the Sheyenne River, said Steve Burian, a consulting engineer for the project. The treatment plant will cost $59 million.

Pipeline proponents are hoping for a rebound in oil prices, since oil revenues help finance water projects. Although the pipeline could be built in six or seven years, officials are hoping for a 10-year construction timeframe, Mahoney said. That would average $100 million per year in construction costs.

"There's enthusiasm for the project," he said.

If you go

What: Red River Valley Water Supply Project informational meeting

When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7

Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo

More info: The conference, "Red River Valley Water Supply Project: Investing in Our Future," is open to the public at no cost. The agenda includes detailed sessions about the project's scope, schedule and financial considerations, among other topics.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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