Nearly 100 people attended the 2019 Garrison Diversion Water Conference in October where they were provided an opportunity to learn about the Red River Valley Water Supply Project (RRVWSP) and North Dakota’s variable weather patterns. “Some have questioned the need for an emergency water supply and drought mitigation project, especially when we’re in the middle of a very wet fall. The truth is the Red River Valley Water Supply Project is an insurance policy for future drought events,” says Merri Mooridian, deputy program manager for RRVWSP Administration.
“In 1934, there were five months with zero flow on the Red River. If we get into a 10-year drought, a 1930s style drought, the estimated economic impact is $27 billion in 2019 dollars,” says Duane DeKrey, Garrison Diversion general manager.
The theme of North Dakota’s variable climate and the need to be prepared for drought was repeated throughout the conference presentations. “It’s not a matter of IF a drought will occur, it’s a matter of WHEN it will happen,” says Ken Vein, Garrison Diversion Conservancy Board Second vice chairman and Grand Forks City Council vice president.
“I have a saying on the wall in my office at NDSU, ‘You don’t get points for predicting rain. You get points for building arks.’ This project is an ark builder. Everyone was laughing at Noah, but look at what came,” says Daryl Ritchison, director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) and keynote speaker. “The thing is, we live in this highly dynamic, changing climate. The other parts of the country don’t have that big range. In 1975, the Red River in Fargo went up to the highest point it’s ever gone in the summer. The next year, the Red River was dry. That’s the reality of where we live.”
Conference emcee John Wheeler, WDAY chief meteorologist, also provided interesting meteorological insights throughout the day. Presenters provided information about Garrison Diversion’s landowner relations efforts, as well as the engineering and financial aspects of the RRVWSP. “Ensuring the project is affordable for the 35 end users is critically important. We are reaching out and having conversations with the cities and water systems involved right now. If it’s not affordable for them, they won’t be able to move forward. We are hopeful a long-term, low-interest loan will be approved during the next legislative session to ensure affordability,” says Mooridian.
John Paczkowski, North Dakota’s assistant state engineer, provided an update on the State Water Commission’s efforts. He also helped wrap up the conference by sitting on the “State of Water in ND” panel discussion alongside Sen. Rich Warder, Majority Leader; Rep. Jim Schmidt, Water Topics Overview Committee chairman; and Eric Volk, North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association executive director. The panel was moderated by Joel Heitkamp, voice of the News & Views radio show.