Water plan delays would be costly

Post Date: Feb 12 2008

Local officials in the Red River Valley, busy getting united behind a preferred way of supplementing water supplies in times of drought, got this nudge Monday: Delays could add up at the rate of $2 million a month.

That warning came from Dave Koland, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which has been working with local governments and water districts in the valley to provide for their water needs through the year 2050.

The state of North Dakota and the consortium of local governments the Lake Agassiz Water Authority have lined up behind what they call the preferred option for augmenting water supplies.

That proposal, with a price tag of $660 million, would use existing features of the Garrison Diversion Unit including a mammoth pumping station and canal 59 miles long to divert Missouri River water to the Sheyenne River.

The last 125 miles of the diversion would come from a constructed pipeline. The pipeline would deliver water upstream from Lake Ashtabula, which would be used as a huge storage reservoir.

The lake, created by Baldhill Dam on the Sheyenne, north of Valley City now has a storage capacity of 69,000 acre-feet of water. That's not much more than the 66,000 acre-feet of water now demanded by Fargo and other area cities.

The other alternative advocated by former Gov. Bill Guy, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, and Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, among others  would build a pipeline from Bismarck to Fargo at a cost of almost $1.1 billion.

That option, however, has no means of storing water. The city of Fargo's water towers would hold water for about a day, officials said. The ideal solution, discarded because of cost, would be a pipeline capable of entirely replacing Red River Valley water from local supplies with Missouri River water at a cost of $2.5 billion.

Staff of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has been working with the state and local governments on the water-supply project, also have recommended the so-called preferred option. A decision by federal officials is expected no later than March 27.

The consortium of local governments hopes to have a project capable of delivering water by 2012. Delays beyond that time frame would cost an estimated $2 million a month, Koland said, citing estimates from financial advisers.

I don't believe we can afford to waste the next two years or three years, he said.

But Fischer said the North Dakota Legislature might be persuaded to increase state support beyond the $100 million authorized in the last session if it is convinced of the economic payoff. We need to look at it a little more largely and bolder, he said.

Any Red River water supply project using Missouri River water would require congressional authorization.