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Steve L. Burian, Published January 30 2011

Sheyenne River is vital to cities

I would like to address and correct some of the information presented in the opinion given in “Refuting the DL Water-Quality Myth” by George Freeman (Jan. 6).

The statement that “no municipality uses the water of the Sheyenne River except Valley City (and only in an emergency)” is not accurate. Although Valley City can use only ground water, which actually is still under the direct influence of the Sheyenne River, the city routinely uses a blend of 60 percent Sheyenne River surface water and 40 percent ground water for its water supply. The city uses this blend because strictly using groundwater draws down the aquifer too quickly.

Fargo withdraws a portion of its water supply from an intake located on the Sheyenne River. From August 2005 through November 2010, Fargo used the Sheyenne River to some extent about 50 percent of the time. Overall, nearly 40 percent of the water treated at the plant over this time period was drawn from the Sheyenne River.

Currently, West Fargo uses only ground water from the West Fargo aquifer as its drinking water source. The city, however, also holds two surface water permits for withdrawal of water from the Sheyenne River. In February 2010, West Fargo completed a master plan for a future water treatment facility, which considers the use of surface water from the Sheyenne River to accommodate the growing community. The city is also considering collaborating with Fargo for water supply and treatment.

In addition, five entities hold permits for water stored in Lake Ashtabula, a reservoir created by the construction of Baldhill Dam, which impounds the Sheyenne River approximately 12 miles upstream of Valley City. Together, Valley City, Lisbon, West Fargo, Fargo and Grand Forks are allocated approximately 64,000 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Ashtabula. This water allocation comprises approximately 90 percent of the entire volume of Lake Ashtabula and is intended as a backup water supply for these entities.

The commentary article correctly listed the communities of Grand Forks and Drayton as drawing water from the Red River downstream of the confluence with the Sheyenne. In addition, East Grand Forks, Minn., owns an intake on the Red River but currently uses the Red Lake River for its primary water source. Grafton, which was not mentioned in the article, also draws its primary water supply from the Red River.

Unfortunately, relieving the Devils Lake flooding is a challenge that does not have an easy solution for all parties involved. State agencies such as the State Water Commission, our congressional delegation and technical groups, however, are working tirelessly to find common ground and to work towards a resolution to one of the most pressing water issues facing our state.


Burian is CEO of Environmental Services Inc. (AE2S) in Grand Forks. The company specializes in water system consulting and has provided services to the North Dakota cities of Valley City, Lisbon, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Drayton and Grafton and East Grand Forks, Minn.