Plan to divert Missouri River water on hold

Post Date: Jun 18 2008

The government's preferred option to divert Missouri River water to the Red River Valley is on hold while diplomats try to resolve objections from Canadians.

Federal and state officials have recommended a $660 million proposal for transferring Missouri River water to Fargo and other cities in the valley to supplement water supplies in times of severe, prolonged drought.

But to proceed, the U.S. secretary of the Interior, who oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, must sign off on the project, which backers hope can start construction in two years. The project is designed to satisfy water needs through 2050.

Last year, state and federal officials selected a canal-and-pipeline route as the preferred option, both for its lower cost as well as certain environmental benefits, including supplementing Sheyenne River flows during droughts.

But selection has been delayed until Sept. 1, officials said.

The preferred option for supplementing Red River Valley water supplies would use existing irrigation canals built years ago for the abandoned Garrison Diversion Project as well as a pipeline to deliver water to the Sheyenne River at Lake Ashtabula north of Valley City, N.D., which flows into the Red River.

But the Canadian government and province of Manitoba object strongly to any transfer of water from outside the basin to the Red River, which flows north into Hudson Bay, fearing the introduction of nonnative plant and marine species.

To address those concerns, the proposed water project includes a $120 million filtration and treatment plant, which an environmental impact statement has determined would prevent the spread of organisms, so-called biota.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he asked federal officials to try to reach agreement with Canadian officials, but did not ask for selection to be put on hold while talks are ongoing.

The Bush administration's Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, apparently decided on its own initiative to delay until Sept. 1 its record of decision on the preferred means of ensuring the Red River Valley's water supply.

The question of when the record of decision comes out of the Department of Interior, that's a matter of the Bush administration, not the Congress, Dorgan said.

Separately, the administration's Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the $660 projects fiscal soundness.

We're waiting to hear back from the State Department, said Rick Nelson, who oversees the Red River water supply project for the Bureau of Reclamation's Bismarck office. We have the record of decision ready to sign.