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Sen. Phil Murphy, Published July 13 2013

Letter: Legislators forum strengthens ties among states and province

From 1982 until 1997 when the big flood hit the Red River Valley, I escorted MayPort CG students on a once-yearly school trip to Winnipeg. The ’97 flood prevented us from paralleling the river to that cosmopolitan city with such important trade and cultural ties to North Dakota and Minnesota.

Last week, I again drove up to Winnipeg as a new member to the 13th Annual International Legislators Forum, and was reminded of the importance of that relationship.

Canada is our No. 1 trading partner. The legislative forum was brought about by lawmakers from Canada, Minnesota and North Dakota as a response to problems exacerbated by the ’97 flood. Our Red River begins in Wahpeton, N.D., where the Bois de Sioux River (flowing from Lake Traverse, which is split between Minnesota and South Dakota), joins the Ottertail River (emanating from Big Elbow Lake about 15 miles as the crow flies from Lake Itasca in Minnesota). As for Canada, recall that the Mouse/Souris River (Minot area) is a tributary of the Assiniboine River, which meets the Red in Winnipeg.

As a result of the geography, the three states and Manitoba have been meeting annually to discuss the issues in the drainage basin as well as other issues such as trade and energy.

What did we accomplish? That would be hard to state in terms of concrete results, but if you are a farmer reading this, it is kind of like when you attend a meeting where a smart meteorologist (there was one at this one) or economist lectures. You may walk out feeling like you understand your place and situation a bit better but not immediately sure how. It was worth the time and trouble because I now know people to call and speak with in Canada, Minnesota and South Dakota about issues.

We heard presentations on the U.S. farm bill; important and for the first time ever recently defeated on the floor of the U.S. House. Certainty on the farm is desirable and fleeting in agriculture and trade; not having a farm bill contributes to uncertainty and makes our trade partners uneasy.

We heard from experts on climate cycles and projections (they do not know much for certain), water supplies and sources, jurisdictional approaches to water, etc. Energy took center stage the next day as we heard about the regional picture of electrical generation and transmission (we do work well with other states and Canada in the energy grid). We also got an update on the North Dakota oil boom.

Our states and countries need to be able to plan and cooperate with each other on these topics. I look forward to the challenges through cooperative efforts like the legislators forum.

By the way, Morrie Lanning (ex-mayor of Moorhead and retiring Minnesota legislator), a name many of you recognize, was honored for his service to the forum, and was there to pass on his expertise.

I would also encourage parents to get passports for your children and take them to Winnipeg. It has always struck me as improbable that such a cosmopolitan city is so near to us (185 miles from my home in Portland). That city and river also explain how this current civilization got rooted in the valley and how we were the go-between for Winnipeg and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Murphy, D-Portland, represents District 20 in the North Dakota Senate.