WASHINGTON — North Dakota’s congressional delegation and Gov. John Hoeven are trying to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cancel plans to put a hold on new Lake Sakakawea water permits.
The corps is proposing a long-term water allocation study that could take at least three years and possibly seven years to complete. During that time, the corps has said, no new lake water intake permits will be issued and existing permits will not be changed for higher capacity.
Hoeven said Wednesday the corps should continue its longstanding policy of issuing access easements on the mainstem reservoirs in North Dakota, even at the same time as the proposed water allocation study of the Missouri River.
Corps officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Hoeven pressed the case in a phone call with Omaha District Commander Col. Robert J. Ruch and in a letter to the corps’ assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, at corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Lake Sakakawea water is important to shale fracturing techniques used in North Dakota oil fields. It also provides water to surrounding communities.
A permit freeze is “simply unacceptable,” Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy said in a joint statement.
“The decision by the corps to not issue permits while they are doing this study puts North Dakota’s energy development and production, as well as some of the drinking water distribution projects we’ve funded, in jeopardy of long delays,” the delegation statement said.
“The amounts of water at issue are miniscule,” the delegation said in the letter to Darcy. “High-end estimates are that full development of the state’s oil fields would require 1,800 new wells drilled per year, at a total of 4 million gallons of water each.” This totals about 60 acre-feet of water per day, compared to the approximately 40,000 acre-feet of Missouri River water that passes through Bismarck-Mandan each day. More realistic estimates indicate that the wells would require closer to 30 acre-feet per day.
The delegation said energy development is not the only thing at risk.
“We have also been told that a requested intake from Lake Oahe for the South Central Regional Water system may not be permitted, and the same could apply to the Southwest Water Authority and Northwest Area Water Supply project,” the delegation said.
“I am concerned that important water projects throughout North Dakota could be delayed or stopped during this period,” Hoeven said in his letter to Darcy. “Clearly, such a step would have an adverse effect on North Dakota’s rural and municipal water supplies, as well as on industrial uses such as oil recovery activities.”
The governor said the corps’ plan also includes a provision to charge the state a fee for water storage and consumption.
“Bear in mind that water from the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River and their tributaries are a public trust, owned by the state of North Dakota for the people of North Dakota,” Hoeven wrote.
“The corps, by compelling such a fee, would force the state to access water from the rivers rather than from the reservoirs. That makes no sense and you should reject any such fee.”