Our view: Push funds toward water, the new 'gold' in North Dakota

The RRVWSP will ensure a steady stream of water for central and eastern North Dakota, provided it continues to get adequate funding from the Legislature.

Herald pull quoted, 3/11/23
Herald graphic

“Water is the new gold.” That’s a popular phrase these days, especially in relation to increasing water shortages in the American Southwest, where the Colorado River has run low for years and as water needs increase along its path. It’s also ringing true in North Dakota, where a drought in 2021 amplified the need for funding for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project, which aims to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley.

The RRVWSP will ensure a steady stream of water for central and eastern North Dakota, provided it continues to get adequate funding from the Legislature. The project is, according to its website, an effort to “provide an emergency water supply to central and eastern North Dakota during times of water scarcity so as to protect public health, ensure ongoing economic vitality and provide for environmental benefits in the river systems.” When completed, it will connect — via pipeline — the Missouri River and the Sheyenne River, which in turn flows into the Red River. Currently under construction, its goal is to “provide a supplemental and emergency water supply to participating communities and rural water systems during times of water scarcity.”

Funding for the project is high on the legislative priority list for some eastern North Dakota community leaders, and rightfully so. Without a steady flow of water, Grand Forks, for instance, simply cannot confidently grow, nor can it feel assured its current thirst will be slaked if an epic drought strikes the region.

The dry months of 2021 provided a reminder of how bad it could be. Starting in September 2020, each month through July 2021 was the driest on record for the northern Red River Valley.

On June 29, the river flowed at 1,160 cubic feet per second, down from 8,000 cfs from the same day in 2020. As the summer continued, sandbars, rocks and debris jutted above the waterline.


Luckily, that fall was wet, and winter snows replenished the river and rejuvenated the region. But it ominously portended what could happen during the next prolonged dry spell.

Further, the effect of climate change on the region and the river must be considered.

Altogether, historic droughts, the dry months of 2021, climate change and the region’s growing needs for water should combine to prompt lawmakers to approve the most recent funding request for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. Its projected price tag is $1.3 billion, although that number likely will rise due to inflation. That’s why lawmakers should act now.

At present, the Legislature is considering a request for the 2023-25 biennium for $255 million for the project.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of the project happening or not — it’s just a matter of timing,” Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski told the Herald earlier this year. “With inflation and everything else, trying to get that done sooner rather than later makes a lot of sense.”

This isn’t just a Grand Forks project. According to West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, “there are 27 other entities that are along this corridor and that’s the critical thing. … This is going to be a water supply for many rural water systems, as well as smaller communities.”

We hope lawmakers understand the importance of acting now on funding for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. Waiting only adds to the price and increases the chances of water shortages if drought strikes in the near future.

Indeed, water is the “new gold.” So let’s invest in it now, rather than unnecessarily suffer through more dry years that inevitably will come.

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