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ND Moves on $1B Water Pipeline Project

Friday, November 10, 2017

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North Dakota officials are moving forward with long-delayed plans for a 165-mile pipeline intended to supply water to parts of the state they say don’t have a reliable source of water, especially when drought strikes.

The Red River Valley Water Supply Project, first authorized in 2000 as a federal project, is a $1 billion proposal that would help move water from the Missouri River to the Sheyenne River to the east. The Sheyenne flows into the Red River at Fargo; the Red flows north, eventually draining to Hudson Bay.

Audubon Lake
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The pipeline would begin either at Audubon Lake (pictured), using the McClusky Canal, or at an intake further south on the Missouri River.

The project is part of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District; the Garrison Diversion was an earlier water supply project authorized in 1968, which was abandoned in the 1990s without having been completed. The Diversion project morphed into the Red River Valley plan.

Drought Fears

The project aims to supply water to towns like Fargo and Grand Forks, which the state says are undersupplied, especially when drought strikes. A massive drought in the 1930s resulted in zero flow in the Red River for five months in 1934, project proponents say; the new pipeline would mitigate the damage of another such drought. Red River Valley project officials say studies indicate another such drought is likely before 2050.

Most of the state experienced moderate to severe drought conditions this past summer.

In addition to drought issues, proponents say state law discourages the use of groundwater as a water supply, making the diversion from the Missouri all the more important. The pipeline would also be accessible for use by industrial facilities in its vicinity.

Construction by 2019?

The North Dakota State Water Commission is authorized to fund up to $30 million toward the Red River Valley project in its 2017-19 budget, including $17 million for planning and permitting and another $13 million for preliminary construction. Officials say that construction could begin in 2019, and they reportedly foresee a 10-year timeline for completion. The pipeline will require a treatment plant where the water enters from the Missouri, and the water will be dechlorinated before it enteres the Sheyenne.

Planned route
Garrison Diversion Conservancy District

The pipeline will carry water from the Missouri River east to the Sheyenne, which flows into the Red River at Fargo.

The pipeline would begin either at Lake Audubon (running through the McClusky Canal, built for the Garrison Diversion project) or at a to-be-constructed intake on the Missouri River near Washburn. The underground pipeline is planned to generally follow Highway 200 across the state.

Officials told the Grand Forks Herald they have met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to discuss the use of the canal, which would require permission from the Bureau of Land Reclamation. The canal option would cost considerably less than adding a new intake further south on the river.

The state plans to use 165 miles of 72-inch steel pipe, moving 165 cubic feet of water per second.

Funding Concerns

The Water Commission’s new projects are funded through the state’s Resources Trust Fund, which is replenished largely via fees on oil drilling. With oil prices down, some expressed concerns last year that funding for the project could be in jeopardy.

The state’s executive budget for 2017-19 includes $560.5 million in water-related expenditures and only about $306 million in revenue; according to the budget, the fund will have only $615,507 left at the end of 2019. It is estimated to have about $260 million right now.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Pipeline; potable water; Program/Project Management

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