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Patrick Springer, Published June 09 2013

Study looks at shorter pipeline for Red River Water Supply Project

FARGO – Engineers will study the feasibility of shortening a proposed pipeline to carry water from the Missouri River to the Red River Valley that could trim $30 million from its cost.

The proposed Red River Water Supply Project, which would supplement water supplies in cities including Fargo and Grand Forks in times of prolonged drought, has stalled in recent years.

In its original concept, the project would use features of the defunct Garrison Diversion Project, including a pumping station and canal designed for irrigation, to divert water.

That project, which carried a $660 million price tag and also would involve building a 123-mile pipeline, emerged as the preferred alternative in a project with federal, state and local involvement.

Although an extensive environmental review was favorable, the project has languished for more than five years. Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have given final federal approval for the project, apparently a victim of the federal budget crunch.

Last fall, engineers for the Lake Agassiz Water Authority outlined an alternative that could be built without the pumping station and canal.

That alternative, with an estimated cost of $781 million, was put forward as a possible option in case the state concluded federal support was not realistic.

To comply with a water treaty with Canada, any project that would transfer Missouri River water to the Red River watershed would have to filter and treat the water to prevent transmission of nonnative species. The estimated cost of a treatment plant is $125 million.

To keep the project alive, the North Dakota Legislature appropriated $11 million for the 2013-15 budget, which begins July 1.

That will allow additional engineering studies, including the feasibility of having the pipeline deliver water to a tributary of the Sheyenne River instead of Lake Ashtabula, formed by Baldhill dam north of Valley City.

That could save an estimated $30 million by shortening the length of the pipeline, said Dave Koland, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which is managing the water supply project.

“That’s significant,” Koland said of the potential savings.

Officials also continue to secure easements from landowners along the pipeline route. Easement options have been obtained for 76 percent of the route, Koland said.

Drought conditions last year brought a greater sense of urgency to the need for bolstering flows on the Red River, which slowed to a trickle in the Dustbowl drought of the 1930s.

If the decision were made today to build the project, engineering work and construction would take seven years.

So waiting for a severe drought to hit before taking action is foolish, Koland said. A drought of the magnitude of the 1930s would pose a much greater problem today because of the increasing population, he said.

North Dakota officials continue to press for federal participation, arguing that delivering Missouri River water to eastern North Dakota would fulfill a promise to the state in exchange for sacrifices it made to allow construction of the Garrison Dam, located north of Bismarck, and the Oahe Dam near Pierre, S.D.

The two dams created enormous reservoirs that consumed 550,000 acres of prime bottomland, North Dakota officials have said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522