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Published April 19 2012

North Dakota water supply project could be pursued without federal assistance

FARGO – Tired of waiting on a federal bureaucracy that drags its feet, proponents of an effort to supply eastern North Dakota with Missouri River water told state lawmakers Thursday they’re willing to move ahead with Plan B.

Former Fargo Mayor and Lake Agassiz Water Authority Chairman Bruce Furness told a water-focused legislative committee that his group is prepared to consider an alternative that won’t require federal assistance.

The Lake Agassiz Water Authority, a coalition of local governments in 13 Red River Valley counties, has worked since 2003 to solve the area’s water supply problem in anticipation of the next drought.

The authority has pursued a $660 million project that would use a canal and pipeline to divert Missouri River water to the Sheyenne River and eventually to eastern communities such as Fargo.

Lake Agassiz officials have waited more than four years for the final stamp of approval on the proposed project: a record of decision from the Department of the Interior.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels since 2008,” Furness said. “Now it’s 2012, (we) can no longer wait on the federal government. We still need a water supply for eastern North Dakota.”

The new alternative is an offshoot from the original plan awaiting federal approval, but it doesn’t require the federal government’s participation, Furness said.

Instead, local and state leaders could implement the new plan at a higher price without Interior approval.

The alternative calls for a $781.4 million canal and pipeline system that taps Missouri River water from near Washburn instead of Lake Audubon, and ushers it to the Sheyenne River Basin.

Because that route is so similar to the original plan, 83 percent of the design is already complete, consultants said.

Furness informed lawmakers Thursday about the potential deviation in plan but made no specific request of them.

“We realize water supply is not the hottest issue in town right now, but long term, it’s going to be more significant,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541


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