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Pipeline project gets state OK

BISMARCK A pipeline project to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley during a drought got a big boost Friday when the House OK'd bonding and cash for the state's share.

BISMARCK A pipeline project to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley during a drought got a big boost Friday when the House OK'd bonding and cash for the state's share.

Despite skeptical questions by a few western legislators, Senate Bill 2345 passed 92-0.

"We're appreciative and grateful," said former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness, now chairman of the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, after the vote.

The bill passed the Senate in February and only needs the governor's signature.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, who visited the Capitol this week in part to discuss the valley project, said Friday, "I'm pleased. I'm very pleased."


Though Friday's vote was a major step forward, it is unlikely even a shovel of earth will be dug before 2009, said Grand Forks City Council member Curt Kreun, who's also on the Lake Agassiz board.

"We've got a pretty big row to hoe," he said, ticking off many actions, commitments and paperwork still needed from federal agencies, Congress and dozens of local governments and water districts. None of the other actions could proceed until the state said "yes," he said.

"It's a huge project. It's almost overwhelming when you think about it," he said.

The $700 million project is to be built in two phases over the next 10 years.

In the first phase, it will bring Missouri River water in Lake Sakakawea east, starting at the Snake Creek pumping station on U.S. Highway 83 near Coleharbor, N.D., which moves it to neighboring Lake Audubon. It will flow through the McClusky Canal to near McClusky, N.D., where a treatment plant will remove microorganisms and invasive species. Then comes a 125-mile, 66-inch buried pipeline extending across country to the Sheyenne River just above Lake Ashtabula. In the second phase, pipelines take water from the Red River west to Grafton, N.D., and from Fargo to Wahpeton, N.D.

The federal government will build the $100 million treatment plant as part of an international boundary waters treaty with Canada.

The remaining $600 million is split three ways. State, federal and local governments each will pay $200 million.

The state will use a combination of revenue bonds paid off with tobacco settlement dollars, general funds, oil tax revenue and its Municipal, Rural and Industrial Water Supply Program, which is federal money.


Though the valley will use Sakakawea only during a 1930s-style drought and even then would lower the lake no more than an inch per year, some in the west oppose it, including the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Skeptical questions in the House debate Friday came from Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, whose district includes Fort Yates, and Rep. Dawn Charging, R-Garrison, whose district includes the city of Garrison, the Fort Berthold reservation and resorts on Lake Sakakawea. Both have seen their areas hard hit by a western states drought that has shrunk Sakakawea and Lake Oahe. In both Garrison's and Fort Yates' cases, dropping water levels have endangered and disrupted the cities' municipal water intakes in the lakes.

Froelich asked why the flooded Devils Lake isn't a source for the valley.

"Why are we not using that?" he asked.

Rep. Donald Clark, R-Fargo, said the valley has looked at many different water supplies, including Devils Lake and Minnesota's Lake of the Woods, and all were not feasible.

Kreun said in an interview that Devils Lake is no solution because if eastern North Dakota experiences a drought so severe it needs to import water, Devils Lake will be dry as well.

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