ND Sen. Dorgan seeks ways to quicken pace of water supply project involving Missouri River

By Dale Wetzel, AP
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oft-delayed ND water project seeks progress

BISMARCK, N.D. — A pipeline network intended to supply Missouri River water to northwestern North Dakota so far hasn’t carried a drop, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he will explore how to quicken the pace of the project.

The Northwest Area Water Supply project has been delayed by a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., by the Canadian province of Manitoba, which is concerned about the possible transfer of unfamiliar waterborne organisms into Canadian waters. The state of Missouri, which is concerned about the project’s water demands on the river and Lake Sakakawea, is supporting the lawsuit.

The project would bring Missouri River water to Minot and a number of communities in the region, including Berthold, Kenmare, Mohall, Bottineau, Westhope, Souris and Bowbells.

Dorgan, who is chairman of the energy and water development subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is holding a hearing in Minot on Wednesday to hear testimony on the project’s status. A number of officials are scheduled to speak, including Todd Sando, North Dakota’s state engineer, and representatives of Minot and Kenmare.

“We’re laying pipe. We’re doing a series of things to move the project forward,” Dorgan said Tuesday. “The difficulty is, we’ve been stymied by some court rulings. We’re able to lay some pipe, but we’re not able to move forward beyond that.”

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer has allowed the project’s pipeline construction to continue but has not allowed the building of water treatment facilities. In a March order, Collyer said the federal Bureau of Reclamation has avoided doing a thorough examination of the project’s environmental consequences.

“This case demonstrates the adage that it is better to do something right the first time,” Collyer wrote. “Reclamation has wasted years by cutting corners and looking for shortcuts.”

The pipeline network is moving some water from Minot’s treatment plant, but it is drawn from two aquifers the city has long used for its water supply. It wants to draw higher-quality water from Lake Sakakawea and use that water to supply other communities.

“What I want to do now is to try to understand what is the road forward, what we should plan for, and what needs to be done,” Dorgan said. “We’ve put a lot of money in, we’re building a lot of pipeline, but we don’t have Missouri River water in that pipeline at this point.”

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