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Forum staff and wire reports , Published December 23 2008

Action sought on water project

WASHINGTON – North Dakota’s congressional delegation and governor sent a letter Monday urging a Bush administration official to sign off on the proposed project to augment the Red River Valley’s water supply.

The officials wrote Dick Kempthorne, secretary of the Interior, asking him to sign what’s called a “record of decision,” a finding that deems the proposed $660 million project the best way to supplement the drinking water supply to cities including Fargo and Grand Forks in times of extended drought.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Gov. John Hoeven said two weeks ago it appeared that the record of decision was imminent. The project cannot proceed without that approval.

“This project is critical to ensuring that all citizens of North Dakota have reliable access to clean water,” the North Dakota leaders said in their joint statement.

Officials at the Interior Department told North Dakota’s leaders that Kempthorne intended to approve the record of decision before he left office. However, based on opposition from Bush budget officials to the project, the Interior Department sent a letter last week indicating Kempthorne may not give the project the go-ahead.

Even with that approval, the project still must get federal funding and approval to divert water from the Missouri River to the Red River.