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Red River Valley water pipeline project changes course

Nick Smith
Bismarck Tribune

Designers of a proposed state-funded water pipeline from the Missouri River to eastern North Dakota are reversing the course and will seek to construct an intake with permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s probably a given that we’re going to have to do that,” said Ken Vein, chairman of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District Board of Directors, of the intake option. “We should be able to qualify for these permits.”

Proponents designing the proposed Red River Valley Water Supply Project are aiming to start construction next biennium so the project can be grandfathered into existing federal standards for water pipelines and not be subject to potential future rule changes.

Vein described the reasoning behind the likely change of course to the State Water Commission and the interim Water Topics Overview Committee.

Previously, it was believed it might not be possible to get a corps permit and that a series of horizontal collector wells placed above the normal high water mark might be more feasible.

An intake from the river is estimated to cost about $187 million compared to about $424 million cost for collector wells, according to Vein, who said the collector well option would be a backup plan if efforts to make the intake option work are unsuccessful.

Legislative intent in the 2015-17 State Water Commission budget spelled out intent to provide about $150 million per biennium for the next four bienniums to construct the project beginning in 2017-19.

Vein said the state’s tight budget situation has been take into account for the request for funds in 2017-19.

“We’ve made a significant reduction,” Vein said. “(We) hope to ask for $30 to 50 million.”

With $50 million, Vein said the idea would be to begin construction on the intake, some pipeline and an outlet along the route during the 2017-19 biennium.

The pipeline has an estimated total cost of $800 million and $1.1 billion.

Tami Norgard, a Fargo attorney with the Vogel Law Firm, said the reasoning behind beginning construction is so that it would meet a threshold of significant progress in order to grandfather the project in under current federal standards. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water of the United States rule could affect the project if it successfully survives legal challenges by North Dakota and other states.

“We think it’s very important to begin construction,” Norgard said.

About $14 million is being spent in the 2015-17 biennium on planning, of which $12.3 million was from the Legislature and the rest matching costs.

Final design is tentatively expected to be completed during the 2017-19 biennium, with phased construction taking place beginning next biennium and being completed in 2027.

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