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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 02 2012

Area leaders urged to create drought plan

FARGO – This year‘s drought has North Dakota leaders looking at what to do if the extreme dry conditions continue next year or longer.

North Dakota is now a drought center, Garrison Diversion Drought Conference attendees were told Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn.

More than 65 percent of the Lower 48 in the United States is in drought, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ninety-five percent of North Dakota has some level of drought, with the central and eastern areas in extreme to exceptional drought, the National Weather Service’s Climatic Data Center shows.

Since Jan. 1, North Dakota temperatures have averaged 4 to 5 degrees higher than the norm, Fuchs said.

Many areas of North Dakota have received just 25 to 50 percent of the precipitation they normally get, Fuchs said.

That’s a major shift for the state, where for the previous 10 to 12 years a wet cycle ruled, he said.

Several speakers urged planning at all levels of government, from the state, to counties and cities.

Fargo has been looking at alternative water supplies, even as it’s dealt with floods, Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb said.

Fargo uses 12 million gallons of water a day, Grubb said

The most reliable and sustainable water supply would come through the Red River Valley Water Supply Project, he said.

The $660 million plan would draw water from the Missouri River, shunt it to the McClusky Canal, then send it east by pipeline to Lake Ashtabula. From there, it can come through the Sheyenne River.

“This project is truly critical for us,” Grubb said. “We hope to drought-proof ourselves.”

Other water possibilities include using nearby aquifers and perhaps completely recycling wastewater, Grubb said.

Fargo also has a one- to two-year supply of water it can draw from Lake Ashtabula, Grubb said.

“If it doesn’t snow this winter, it will be very scary” in terms of drought next year, he said.

Former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness said it’s time for a “Plan B” to get Missouri River water to the east by having the state and local governments build and pay for the project, rather than relying on federal help.

That $781 million plan calls for pulling water from the Missouri at Washburn, piping it to the McClusky area, and then piping it east to Baldhill Creek, which would then put it into Lake Ashtabula.

Furness said Gov. Jack Dalrymple and some legislative panels have seen the details of Plan B.

In a prolonged drought, having an alternative water supply would mean $20.4 billion in benefits over 10 years for the Fargo area, Furness said.

Grubb said the Red and Sheyenne rivers still have plenty of water for the metro area, so it hasn’t made sense to restrict water use.

That could change if the watersheds that supply the tributary rivers and Lake Ashtabula continue in drought, he said.

Dave Anderson, director of public affairs for Sanford Health, which is building a new health care center in southwest Fargo, said a good water supply is important to all businesses, particularly health care providers.

He wanted to hear Fargo’s planning, and find out how Sanford can be part of the drought response.

“Water supply is critical to our future,” Anderson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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