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Red River water project signup deadline looms

By Patrick Springer
The Forum

FARGO — Communities and rural water systems that want to tap a planned pipeline to carry Missouri River water to the east soon will have to pledge financial support and predict future water demand.

The Lake Agassiz Water Authority, a consortium of local governments in the Red River Valley that joined to supplement water supplies during droughts, has set an Oct. 1 deadline for participating communities and rural water systems.

By that date, cities and water systems that want water from the Red River Valley Water Supply Project must pledge to help pay for preliminary design work for the pipeline, which would take water from the Missouri near Washburn and carry it to Baldhill Creek, a tributary of the Sheyenne River, which joins the Red River.

Potential users also are being asked to project their anticipated water needs for the next 50 years.

Duane DeKrey, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which is overseeing the water supply project, said the project likely would need water commitments of at least 100 cubic feet per second to be viable.

In discussions so far with interested communities and water systems, reaching that threshold shouldn’t be difficult, he said.

“We think we have a soft commitment of somewhere between 120 and 140 cubic feet per second,” DeKrey said.

The city of Fargo, which also provides supplemental water for West Fargo and the Cass Rural Water District, is the largest water user that would draw water from the pipeline.

Bruce Grubb, Fargo’s city administrator, said he’s working on projecting the city’s water needs for the next half century. His early estimate is the city will need between 50 and 60 cubic feet per second for domestic and industrial use.

“We need to go through and do some new calculations,” revising earlier estimates made a dozen years ago for the water supply project, Grubb said. “This is a long-term infrastructure project.”

Fargo is asking West Fargo and Cass Rural Water District to estimate their future water needs, so it can include their figures in its estimate, he said.

Moorhead Public Service is conducting an analysis to determine whether it can rely on the Red River as well as the Buffalo and Moorhead aquifers for its water supply for the next 50 years, or sign up for supplemental water from the pipeline, said Kris Knutson, water division manager.

“I would say it’s still under consideration,” he said. “We’re still working on it.”

Once the information from municipalities and rural water systems is compiled, and the commitments are in hand, backers of the Red River Water Supply Project will present the information to the North Dakota Legislature when it meets next year.

Potential users are asked to make a financial commitment of $14,000 per cubic feet per second so they have some “skin in the game,” and will help with development costs, DeKrey said. “Quite frankly, Fargo and Grand Forks have been carrying the load,” he said.

With a tally of estimated water demand, the project’s backers can present the information to the North Dakota Legislature when it meets next year. Lawmakers are likely to be tight-fisted, given budget cuts that have been forced by an economy slumping from lower oil and farm commodity prices, DeKrey said.

Still, lawmakers in the past have expressed support for the project, and hopefully will again see the need for ensuring water supplies in eastern North Dakota during prolonged drought.

Because the pipeline would cross central North Dakota, communities and rural water systems along the path are being contacted to see if they would be interested in joining the project, DeKrey said.

If a prolonged, 1930s magnitude drought struck the Red River Valley, the economic losses to the state of North Dakota have been estimated at $2 billion a year. Climate experts say it’s a matter of when, not if, a “Dirty Thirties” drought will strike again.

“It kind of comes into focus how important the project is,” DeKrey said.

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