FARGO — The quest to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley has faced many obstacles over the decades, including environmental opposition and the federal budget crunch.
Now a new hurdle looms for the proposed Red River Valley Water Supply Project: low oil prices.
North Dakota’s Resource Trust Fund, which is used to pay for water projects, is funded by oil revenue. The fund has dwindled with the sharp drop in the price of oil, and now is expected to have about $200 million when the Legislature meets next January.
There are many demands for water projects throughout the state, including for flood control and water supply, so it will be a struggle to maintain funding to keep moving ahead with planning and preparations for the Red River Valley project, officials said.
“We would like to keep the planning going, because we think it’s imperative,” said Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, chairman of the Legislature’s interim Water Topics Committee. “We will do everything we can to continue planning with that.”
Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, vice chairman of the interim water committee, also expressed hope that money will be found to keep the project moving ahead.
“All I can say is we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” he said, noting the roughly $200 million expected for water projects. “That’s not a lot of dollars for everything going on in the state,” he said.
The Red River Valley Water Supply Project would pipe water from the Missouri River near Washburn north of Bismarck to the Sheyenne River, which joins the Red River near Harwood. It would largely follow a corridor along Highway 200.
This budget biennium, the state approved $12.3 million for engineering studies and planning. There is no current estimate for the project. Several years ago, estimates ranged from $825 million to $1 billion.
Although originally proposed to augment water supplies in the Red River Valley during periods of prolonged drought, the pipeline could provide water to other cities along its route.
“We’re looking at a segmented project now,” said Duane DeKrey, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which is managing the Red River Water Supply Project.
If approved, the project could be built in segments, with a first phase concentrating on central North Dakota, DeKrey said. That option is being explored, and information including costs will presented to the Water Topics Committee before the next session.