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By Dave Olson, Published June 03 2009

Moorhead pursues plan for aquifer

If drought comes, Moorhead may look east instead of west to quench its thirst, according to information the Clay County Commission heard Tuesday.

Cliff McLain, water division manager for Moorhead Public Service, told commissioners his agency is moving forward with efforts to create a management plan for the Buffalo Aquifer, an underground lake that contains more than 200 billion gallons of water.

About 10 to 20 percent of that amount could be pumped in times of need, said McLain, who told the commission Moorhead wants to secure the Buffalo Aquifer as a backup source for water in times of drought.

Moorhead once took much of its water from the ground, but now draws about 15 percent from that source, with the rest coming from the Red River.

Since the city reduced its aquifer pumping more than a decade ago, the Buffalo Aquifer has risen about 15 feet and is back to 1950s levels, McLain said.

In recent years, Moorhead Public Service has been working with the Lake Agassiz Water Authority in that group’s effort to secure a supplemental supply of water for the Red River Valley.

The authority wants to establish a pipeline system that could tap the Missouri River in North Dakota if conditions turn dry like they did in the 1930s, when the region suffered through many years of drought.

For Moorhead, participating in what is known as the Red River Valley Water Supply Project would likely cost twice as much as a system that relies on the Buffalo Aquifer, according to McLain, who said that with the aquifer a backup pipeline wouldn’t have to be built until a drought actually struck.

For now, he said, Moorhead is sticking with the Red River Water Supply Project as an option, but he said the day may come when the city must choose one backup system to invest in.

The aquifer management plan is expected to take three years to develop.

It would include an analysis of ground water resources in the county and the number of wells drawing from them.

During a drought, priorities would dictate who can draw from aquifers, but McLean said given the amount of water in the Buffalo Aquifer, “there’s plenty of water for everybody in the county.”

Commissioners voiced support for Moorhead’s effort to create an aquifer management plan but held off identifying how the county might help financially.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555