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Red River Valley officials lobby for state funds for water pipeline

BISMARCK - "We have to do it now," was the refrain from Grand Forks, Fargo and state water officials who sought the Legislature's support for a $600 million pipeline to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley.

BISMARCK - "We have to do it now," was the refrain from Grand Forks, Fargo and state water officials who sought the Legislature's support for a $600 million pipeline to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley.

Supporters of Senate Bill 2345 warned a drought like the one in the 1930s, which reduced the Red River to a trickle and less, would bring widespread misery.

"During a 1930s-type drought, the valley will not have enough water to sustain itself, resulting in a devastating economic impact not only to the Red River Valley but the entire state of North Dakota," said Grand Forks City Councilman Curt Kruen, who also serves on the Lake Agassiz Water Authority's board.

If that happened now, the city of Fargo would need 1,200 truckloads of water brought in every day, or one truckload every minute, said former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness.

"This is not a project only for eastern North Dakota. This is a project for all of North Dakota," he said. He still represents the city on the Lake Agassiz Water Authority and is its chairman.

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"The solution needs to be achieved in the very near future," Furness said.

He said the valley has 42 percent of the state's population and produced 52 percent of the state's sales and use tax revenue in 2004. It is largely reliant on the Red River and a few aquifers, some of which are being depleted.

The bill sets out how the state's one-third share of the $600 million project would be raised through state Water Commission bonds and appropriated funds. The Legislature needs to commit to those funds in law to lock in the federal government's one-third share, said Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, prime sponsor of the bill.

Another one-third of the cost will be local: borne by 13 cities in North Dakota, 3 cities in Minnesota and 12 North Dakota rural water systems.

Phase 1 of project

Phase 1 of the project is to be built starting in spring 2009 and continue through 2011, with water delivery beginning in 2012.

It will use the Snake Creek Pumping Plant on U.S. Highway 83 to pump Lake Sakakawea water into Lake Audubon. It would run by gravity through the McClusky Canal, and into a treatment plant to remove invasive species and microorganisms that Canada fears would put Missouri River biota into its watershed.

Treatment plantThe federal government will pay for the $100 million treatment plant.

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From the treatment plant, a 125-mile buried pipeline 66 inches in diameter would deliver 120 cubic feet per second into the Sheyenne River via Lake Ashtabula north of Valley City, for storage until needed. The Sheyenne runs into the Red.

Phase 2 would build pipelines to rural water systems and to Wahpeton and Grafton.

Western N.D. viewThe project would not rob western North Dakotans of water, said Bill Butcher, representing Friends of Lake Sakakawea. Even if the valley had to obtain all of its water from Lake Sakakawea for an entire year, it would lower the lake by an inch or less, he and Fischer said.

The committee did not act on the bill Friday.

Cole works for Forum Communications, which owns the Herald.

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