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“Collector wells breathe new life into water supply project for eastern ND” - Fargo Forum

BISMARCK — A decades-old vision of sending Missouri River water to eastern North Dakota to provide relief during times of drought has found a new path forward — and it starts underground.

A recently completed study confirms that a system of collector wells along the Missouri River can gather enough water to service the entire Red River Valley Water Supply Project, said Ken Vein, vice chairman of the 13-county Lake Agassiz Water Authority, the project’s local sponsor.

Those results were needed before officials could set the pipeline route, Vein said Monday.

“Now that that’s established, I see us going at a much quicker pace,” he said, updating the Legislature’s interim Water Topics Overview Committee on the project.

The collector well system also will allow the project to avoid another full environmental review by the federal government, keeping it a state and local project, said Vein, who lives in Grand Forks.

“We will comply with every applicable federal law, but we can design a system that is fully compliant that doesn’t have the higher level of permitting,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The original preferred alternative would have used the McClusky Canal and a 123-mile buried pipeline to carry Missouri River water to Lake Ashtabula, a reservoir north of Valley City on the Sheyenne River, which eventually flows into the Red River.

That option garnered a positive environmental review in 2007, but couldn’t secure the federal approval needed to allow Congress to authorize and fund the project.

A study launched in 2014 by the State Water Commission and later picked up by the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District was finished in January, identifying the collector well system as the best water intake option.

The system would consist of nine to 14 wells in the Washburn area, depending on the project’s scope. The horizontal wells would sit a few hundred feet from the Missouri River — just outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction — and use pumps to draw water through the riverbank’s loose soil and rock, using it as a natural filtration system.

Vein said pump stations would send the water up a 381-foot rise to the continental divide north of Jamestown, from where it would flow downhill an elevation of 637 feet to the Sheyenne River or Bald Hill Creek, which empties into Lake Ashtabula.

Officials are considering three possible locations for a water treatment station designed to comply with the U.S-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty.

Kip Kovar, district engineer for the Garrison Diversion, the said the volume of water pulled from the river compared to its overall flow “is such a tiny drop in the bucket,” he said.

The project’s final capacity will depend on how many rural water systems and others in central and eastern North Dakota sign on. Vein said he hopes to know the number of users by July 1, saying it will allow for a more accurate cost estimate than the current figure of roughly $1 billion.

Committee members were told that without a supplemental water supply for eastern North Dakota, the economic impact to the state of a 1930s-style drought is estimated at $2 billion a year.

“If we had to keep moving forward with the threat of federal intervention, then obviously it would be a cloud over the entire project,” committee member Sen. Jon Casper, R-Fargo, said.

Vein said conceptual engineering is scheduled to wrap up in June, followed by preliminary engineering through June 2017. The planning budget for the 2015-17 biennium is $16 million, and the state provided $12.3 million.

The goal is to build the project in phases from 2018 to 2024, Vein said.

The Legislature has indicated it would fund construction to the tune of $150 million in each of the next four two-year budget cycles, but a drop in state tax revenues related to the downturn in the state’s oil industry threatens that funding.

“We understand this is a huge project ... that we are probably going to have to relook at our timelines long-term for how we’ll be able to implement the project, but we still want to stress the importance of it as we move forward,” Vein said.

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